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What Do Oprah, Scarlett & Medical Marijuana Have in Common? Drug Naming.

Drug Naming

The inspiration for this article comes from Stuart Elliott. Before taking an early retirement at the end of 2014, Mr. Elliott was the New York Times advertising columnist who reported on the ad and marketing scene for more than 20 years. His now-and-then “20 Questions About Advertising” article was his unique signature. More than inspiring, the cheeky inquiries gave us insightful commentary on not just advertising, but on our culture.

Here's 19 questions about the weird and wonderful world of drug naming, nomenclature and corporate identity. For full effect, say the names aloud.

1. Should the gene therapy company Isis Pharmaceuticals, which has held steadfast against a name change in light of the ascent of the terrorist group ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), begin developing an anthrax vaccine?

Drug Naming

2. Did Martine Rothblatt, CEO of United Therapeutics and creator of the high blood pressure drug name Orenitram from Martine Ro spelled backward, consult with Oprah, whose production company Harpo uses the same semordnilap (word reversal) technique?

3. Should labeling for Saxenda, Novo Nordisk’s new weight-loss drug, advise patients: “While taking Saxenda your sex life does not end”?

4. And speaking of labeling, is the rumor true that one naming firm presented the name Elique to biotech executives who immediately rejected it when it was pointed out that their labeling would have to advise, “…pregnant women should not take Elique”?

5. Are drug name safety experts, who conduct name simulation studies in which oral prescriptions for names are evaluated, concerned that current print and television DTC (direct-to-consumer) ads for the rheumatoid arthritis drug Humira proclaim it to be “Hu–MARE–ah” instead of “Hu-MEAR–ah”?

6. With the recent approval of Ofev, an uncommonly short, four-letter drug name from Boehringer Ingelheim to treat the lung disease IPF (Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis), will the company field a market research survey asking respiratory care nurses, “Does size matter”?

7. Owing to FDA green-lighting Ibrance and Vyvanse in February, and Jardiance and Dalvance getting the thumbs up last year, and before that approvals of Besivance, Glucovance and Kepivance, when will it register with biopharma naming executives that names containing the –ance suffix are no longer distinctive?

8. If the enhanced physical and mental capabilities of the brain-expanding drug CPH4 that Scarlett Johansson took in the 2014 movie Lucy were within reach, would the sponsor company developing the drug be asked for samples by their naming firm?

9. As a result of Baxter announcing it will spinoff Baxalta, and before that Abbott hived off AbbVie, should a spinoff from Amgen follow the same equity-extension trend and give birth to Amigo?

10. And once Baxter spins off Baxalta, is it also conceivable that GlaxoSmithKline, the manufacturer of impetigo treatment Altabax, will receive a stock boost from dyslexic investors?

11. The FDA revealed that it is rejecting fewer brand names for new drugs while approving 74% of the names in the last period, but how much higher could the approval rate be if the list of rejected names included the reasons why they weren’t approved?

12. Why was the naming lesson of the PROVE IT clinical trial, which is to avoid over-promising claims in clinical trial names because not all outcomes come true, not heeded when Merck launched the IMPROVE-IT trials?

13. Given the recent back-to-back FDA approvals of two Merck allergy drugs, Ragwitek for ragweed allergy and Grastek for grass pollen allergy, what are the odds that Merck’s clinical-stage treatment for the house dust mite allergen will be named Mitetek?

Drug Naming

14. After viewing Cinemax’s The Knick, in which the strung-out Dr. Thackery, at the turn of the 20th century appears consoled when given Bayer’s new “wonder drug,” Heroin—a name derived from the German word heroisch ("heroic, strong") to suggest a heroic recovery from his cocaine addiction—what, one wonders, are today’s users of the medical marijuana strain “Trainwreck” thinking?

15. Reflecting on FDA clearing the passage for Savaysa (pronounced sav-vey-suh), Daiichi Sankyo’s new anti-clotting tablet, am I alone in wondering if the Japanese pharma’s naming team was drinking Corona Extra and playing beer pong?

16. Now that DMEPA is responsible for reviewing drug names at FDA, replacing DMETS, OPDRA and the LNC, will the NRG (Name Review Group)—which was established by CHMP of the EMA (European Medicines Agency), formerly EMEA, while having historically a higher name rejection rate than FDA—be re-named NOGO?

17. By virtue of Vyvance becoming the first binge-eating disorder (BED) drug in the U.S., is the regulatory approval pathway now open for a drug to combat the Netflix binge-watching disorder (NBWD)?

18. Is my friend’s beef—that the drug name Myrbetriq (for overactive bladder) sounds worse than its generic name mirabegron—framing a larger drug-naming malaise, where generic names are better than brand names?

19. While it is the mission of the personal genomics firm, 23andMe, to connect individuals to their unique, paired set of 23 chromosomes, did anyone ever imagine a guy making a living by connecting unique sets of the 26 alphabet letters to drug names?

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