My friend said he was stunned by the headline in the Wall Street Journal, “ACTIVIS, ALLERGAN NEAR DEAL.” He said the article went on to talk about a flirtation with Zoetis, while Salix waited in the wings. I had no clue what he was talking about.
The story was all about a corporate drama unfolding in what is known as Big Pharma. Problem is, no one except those familiar with the industry would know any of the players. In Big Pharma the corporate names are as bizarre and confusing as the names of their products, all of which need FDA approval.
For example, just imagine ingesting yohimbine or phentermine. Those sound like something that a medicine man might have prescribed for a skin rash or chronic gastric distress. No thanks, I’ll leave those to the aliens for whom those exotic names are familiar.
I can’t imagine the horrible side effects that might result from using drugs named warfarin, ketoconazole, or haloperidol! And, what do you suppose are the medical conditions that would warrant your taking a daily dosage of cyclobenzaprine, digoxin, or furazolidone? All received the FDA seal of approval.
Apparently, the branding of prescription pharmaceuticals is close to rocket science in complexity. The FDA has veto power over the monikers attached to all brand-name prescription drugs sold in the United States. (Generic drug names, which are often even more bizarre than their brand-name counterparts, go through a different and much more complicated approval process.)
When considering a brand name for approval, FDA reviewers run tests to see how likely it is that a proposed name could be mistaken for an already existing drug with a similar-sounding or similar-looking name. They do tests to catch names that might look alike when scribbled out on a prescription pad in the inscrutable handwriting of physicians.
They also reject any names that could be seen as a boast about the drug’s power or efficacy, which is why you won’t see any drugs named Cholesterol Busters, or Angina-B-Gone (too bad, I’d love to see a commercial for that one).
The net result of all this intense regulatory scrutiny is written in the bizarre names of those prescription drugs in the marketplace. The profusion of really strange names leaves consumers in a quandary. As one prominent medical professor put it, “Pharmaceutical product naming is designed to confuse, not to inform.”
I think I might balk if my doc told me he was going to put me on an aggressive regimen of linezolid, erythromycin, or molindone. What dire illnesses could possibly warrant a treatment with that alphabet-soup collection of drugs?
Of course, I am certain that hundreds of patients have benefited from the curative powers of monoamine oxidase, and phenothiazine, but count me out. I’m sure many have been cured of their life-threatening ailments with these exotically named pharmaceuticals, but the manufacturers should really reconsider the naming process if they want their miracle drug to be a big seller. And the FDA should allow drug companies to use simpler and more informative names for their products.
I don’t know if it’s the Big Pharma marketing departments or their research scientists who come up with these tongue-twisting names for their miracle drug discoveries. But whoever came up with the names zolpidem, thioxthixene, and tiagabine should probably be fired or at least reassigned to a position in the shipping and distribution department.
Of course, some pharmaceuticals have claimed iconic status in the firmament of new product brand names. For example, Viagra, Levitra, and Cialis have become household names for the multitude of men who experience real or imagined erectile dysfunction… or simply want to restore their youthful virility.
When the couple slips into their “his and hers” bathtubs side by side, you sure don’t want the dulcet voiceover to intone the generic name, “When the time is right, sildenafil citrate is the answer.” Somehow, I just don’t think that would be a marketing bonanza.
So, call me a prescription med snob, but I’d rather take a pass on any generic drug named promethazine, rifampin, or serotonin-norepinephrine. I also don’t want to go anywhere near anything like reuptake, fluoxetine, or paroxetine, not to mention the ever popular amitriptyline.
There are some really off-the-wall drug names: Bapineuzumab (sounds like a despotic ruler in ancient Mesopotamia) and Solanezumab (Bapineuzumab’s son?). And some could be very confusing, like Gardasil which is used to treat HPV (human papillomavirus). Doesn’t that sound too much like Clearasil (an over-the-counter anti-zit preparation)?
This alphabet soup of prescription names doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue. We need a new improved glossary of pharmaceutical names that bear some remote connection to the ailments or conditions they are intended to address. For example, since Wellbutrin (bupropion hydrochloride) helps people quit smoking why not call it Nicaway or Cigfree. Not very exotic, but certainly more descriptive. I guess the FDA might balk.
Then there is Pfizer’s Xiaflex (collagenase clostridium histolyticum), a drug designed to treat claw hand, in which fingers become bent toward one’s palm. Instead of Xiaflex why not use the name Flexsave, which would be much more descriptive of what the drug is intended to do. But I suppose some marketing experts may argue Flexsave sounds too much like a really cheap over-the-counter drug sold at a local pharmacy. The more exotic the name, the higher the price.
We are truly blessed by all the drugs out there. They are expensive to develop, expensive to test, expensive to market, and sometimes very expensive to produce, but often they make our lives better or at least more bearable.
However, when it comes naming these products, I would suggest to the FDA that “simpler is better and simplest is best.” Sadly, all too often it seems the drug names can be much more complex and exotic than the disease itself.
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