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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