From the broadest standpoint, drugs all seem to have odd sounding names. Odd because in order to prevent potential confusion and to make sure that the correct drug is prescribed, even the thinnest potential for a mix up is heavily scrutinized. If names are too similar, a cancer patient could be given an arthritis medication. Or someone with arthritis given an anti-depressant. The risks of a medication mix-up can be serious, fatal. Thus, the FDA and other regulatory bodies put all potential pharmaceutical name candidates through rigorous regulatory testing.
Pharmaceutical names are also sternly evaluated on their potential too “over promise.” Meaning a drug can’t simply be named “magic” or “miracle.” Vigor becomes Viagra®. Regain becomes Regaine® around the world, but in the US the FDA ruled that because not all people will ‘regain’ lost hair, that too was over promotional. So here we have Rogaine®.
Despite these strict legal and regulatory complexities, pharmaceutical brands are still required to hit all of the required checkboxes that any other Brand would. Is the Brand memorable? Consistent across marketplaces? Is it compelling? Does it build towards a larger Brand strategy? Is the trademark available?
These factors contribute to why many drug names seem so odd. In addition, the letter choices and lengths of the names also impact the strange names that pharmaceutical companies choose. For example, “drug names use the letter Q three times as often as [other] words in the English language. For X’s, it’s 16 times as much. Z’s take the cake, at more than 18 times the frequency you’d find them in [other] English words.” Drug names are also getting longer, with only 10 percent of them having four syllables in 2010 growing to 15 percent as recently as 2015. Both of these factors help the names stand out against everyday words, but ultimately can add to their perplexing nature.
As the number of compounds being submitted for name approval only grows, so do the complications associated with creating those names. So how does a Company work with an agency to create pharmaceutical Brand names that are clear, consistent, and compelling? It is vital that when beginning a pharmaceutical naming project, that the agency selected to create the name have both a strong understating of these varied complexities and experience in navigating all of the potential pitfalls. Back-up naming plans, understanding of the rebuttal process, and knowledge of the name submission guidelines. These layers of knowledge will be invaluable as a Company progresses through the naming process.
However strange, these names have a purpose. They prevent miss-prescribing, avoid making claims and promises, and stand out against everyday words. Seemingly strange to most of the world yet meticulously purposeful in ways that speak to healthcare professionals and potential consumers alike is what successful pharmaceutical naming is all about.