Thursday, 17 April 2014

So how do you name a drug?

Given the huge investment needed to get a drug onto the market and the sophisticated, expensive launch campaign that follows, it is unlikely that companies would take the naming of their product lightly. Stories abound regarding products in other industries where names have been a disaster, particularly when a product name has been adapted for use in a foreign market. Apart from avoiding embarrassment, given the growing number of medicines on the international market, as well as others emerging from product pipelines, it must be difficult to find something new that does not sound like something else. There is always the safety angle to be aware of since prescribing errors due to name similarities are a big healthcare problem. In addition, the naming process needs to follow certain guidelines outlined by regulators.

As every company closely guards the specifics of their methodology for naming new drugs, it is hard to determine what the common points might be between different company approaches. Nevertheless, some insights and clues have appeared in the industry media. For example, it is clear that companies start thinking about their brand name very early on in development. Clearly a product name should be one that is easy to remember, hopefully straightforward to pronounce and one that subtly gives healthcare professionals a favourable impression (so that they think of it rather than a generic name). Marketers seem to love names that generate emotion and a whole host of branding agencies have done very well in this line of business.
A number of the names sound a bit space age, using letter such as X, Z, N, Q or K. It has been suggested that these hard sounds convey the impression of cutting edge science. Not surprisingly, if we consider things from a marketing perspective, softer sounds seem to be in use for women’s products – using letters such as S, M, V, L or R.

It is easy to be critical that so much time and money is spent on developing a drug name and the touchy feely marketing aspects probably make most people cringe (…you can have a go yourself by trying the online Drug-O-Matic Name Generator). No one wants to feel that they are influenced in any other way to think of a medicine than by the hard scientific and medical data available. Then again, for the Top 25 Best-Selling Drugs how quickly can you name and accurately spell their generic names?

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Thursday, 10 April 2014

Everyone’s talking transparency

We are hearing a lot about transparency these days. Regardless of the sector you work in, everyone is very keen to show that they have nothing to hide. In the world of pharma a big talking point is transparency regarding clinical trial data, driven by longstanding concerns over the selective publication of trial results. The worry is that unless all data for clinical trials are available then no one really knows on what basis clinical decisions about new drugs and other healthcare interventions are made. Several campaigners have suggested that selective reporting of trial results has already had a negative impact on patient health outcomes and that this situation is no longer tolerable. Now with media attention focused on specific examples of drug companies’ perceived reluctance to publish data on all their drug trials, coupled with the persuasive messages from the Alltrials campaign, things are set to change.

There has been a tendency in the past by various industry parties to view clinical trial data as “their” data and put forward technical justifications as to why only certain clinical data is published. However, campaigners for transparency have pretty well scuppered this position by pointing out that since patients are involved, they did not get involved in trials just for the results to stay hidden in some vault. This ethical and moral argument is one that resonates far better with the public than the laboured approach that many industry representatives use. Complicating the industry position further is the fact that some major companies are now publicly backing the Alltrials campaign.


However, what is really set to cause a big stir is the European Medicines Agency’s (EMA) impending policy on the proactive publication of clinical trial data. European regulators have not always been the best of friends with campaigners for data transparency, but the EMA’s current position will be hugely influential on how things develop from here. At the moment, a final round of consultations with key stakeholders is taking place and a final version is likely to be endorsed by the Agency’s management in June. When this policy is released, the impact is likely to be global. Already, there are signs that other regulatory agencies are reviewing their approaches to transparency. Greater data transparency is inevitable, but the measures to ensure that data are released and used in the right way so that patients actually benefit from the more open environment are still to be defined.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

To MOOC or not to MOOC?


OK admit it,you don’t know what a MOOC is and what it stands for, but you keep hearing everyone talk about it. It sounds nerdy though, right? Well, don’t be alarmed as it isn’t a weird alien from Star Trek (…apparently there was a profitable pharma industry in Star Trek. In fact a MOOC is a concept that’s being debated as a way to revolutionize education.

MOOC stands for
Massive Open Online Course and as the full name states is designed to make education accessible wherever you are. Supporters of MOOC have even optimitstically claimed that they will make education “borderless, gender-blind, race-blind, class-blind, and bank account–blind 


If you cut through the jargon, a MOOC basically uses modern technology to deliver an educational course online for free. Many MOOCs appear to be slimmed down versions of modules that might feature in a degree. Learning takes place in a kind of distance learning format, often with video-based lectures and via a website for group course work and assessments (including quizzes and exams). However, there seem to be no entry requirements, no fixed structure for the educational content, no set length and no universally accepted standard certification. Also there is no sign that MOOCs will replace mainstream qualifications (i.e. what you need for a job!). 


If you have no initial set ideas in choosing a MOOC, then you can become a bit overwhelmed by what’s on offer. It’s a bit like your “eyes being bigger than your stomach” when you are faced with the opportunity for a fantastic meal. The fact is that you can study anything – yes truly anything! The list of MOOCs on offer is truly mindboggling and is growing by the day – ranging from areas such as quantum physics, ancient history and corporate finance – through to more unusual subjects such as card magic tricks and knitting socks


If you are in the pharmaceutical industry, all you have to do is sift through this giant list and you will find courses that are ideal for areas you want to know more about. So yes, it is possible for you to ditch the opportunity to pursue underwater basket weaving and instead learn about more career-related areas such as drug discovery and development, clinical trials, medical statistics, healthcare ethics, health technology assessment (HTA) or current global health challenges. Some MOOCs could even help you figure out where you want to work in the pharma sector


If you are interested in educating yourself in new areas then MOOCs can be an excellent way to achieve this at no cost. You may not be able to convince your employer to accept the self assessment certificate you gain from a MOOC as a substitute for a formal qualification but they might be impressed by your new-found knowledge on a subject. However, be warned that hard work is needed if you want to get the best from a MOOC and that if you don’t motivate yourself no one else will. Although thousands of people often sign up to popular MOOCs, the completion rate for courses remains shockingly awful – often 90% do not finish.