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What's In A Drug's Name? One Word - Profit

Posted by Jane Akre
Friday, July 11, 2008 11:27 AM EST
Category: Major Medical, Protecting Your Family
Tags: FDA and Prescription Drugs, Dangerous Drugs, Medication Errors, Defective Drugs

s in a name? a company specializes in naming drugs.



IMAGE SOURCE: Wikimedia Commons/ Prozac/ author: Tom Varco


Consider the names “Prozac” and Viagra” What do they say to you?  How about Gardasil and Lipitor?

What’s in a name? In a word  - profit.

Easily, thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars to a firm that finds just the right name to cement a drug’s image and sent sales into the stratosphere.

Namebase, is a New York-based brand naming specialist firm that combines the art and science of naming products. In the case of drugs, the process can take years.    

The naming industry uses sounds and connotation that evoke subliminal suggestions as to the drug’s qualities.

Consider that “Z” conveys speed, “X “ is scientific and “L”  is calming. Namebase worked with Eli Lilly to name the antidepressant Prozac. “Pro, makes the speaker pucker up and push out a burst of air which grabs attention and implies effectiveness,” says Jim Singer, who named Prozac and founded Namebase, 

One wrong sound could hit a sour note, says Singer.  Certain sounds are a subconscious turnoff to English-speaking ears such as "Scota”. It sounds like scuzzy or scurvy, he says. 

Consider the blockbuster rival to Viagra, Cialis. Its name comes from the French word for “sky” – “ciel”.  Sort of a “The sky’s the limit” connotation doesn’t hurt a drug targeted to limitless romance.

Lipitor, suggests “lipids” or fats, which happen to be the compounds that the drug controls.   Relenza sounds like influenza? Not a coincidence since that’s the malady it fights. And Allegra is on the shelf to combat the ills of allergies- not much of a stretch there.

Trying to “x” out calories? Xenical is the anti-obesity drug for you.

And Viagra not coincidently evokes all the force and passion associated with Niagara Falls. 

"Every little sound carries with it a lot of symbolism," says  Singer.  

Picking a cool name is just the first step. Then there is the research to make sure no other drug has a similar name or there is not a negative or obscene connotation in another language.  Then the Food and Drug Administration must have a look. The FDA reportedly rejects about one-third of all suggested names.

It’s not just a question of vanity.  There can be a medication error if two drugs have a similar name and are mistakenly taken.

In rare cases, Jerry Phillips with the FDA’s office of Medication Error Prevention, says the agency forces change. Take the case of the drug Levoxine, a thyroid preparation. Manufacturers had to change the name to Levoxyl.   The first name was confused with the heart medicine Lanoxin – which led to hospitalizations in 1994.

"It's been an issue consistent over the years," he said. "I hope that we'll have a downturn in the number of errors."

Singer says there are no rules here, only image and avoiding confusion. “When we come up with a drug name, we have to be extra careful to make sure that it sounds and looks different enough from another drug. Patient safety is crucial,” he tells Thestreet.com.

So next time you take a drug- remember that the same company that may have named "Frutopia" and "Any'Tizers" is using the same subtle suggestions to capture you as an audience. #

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