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Drug Naming Goes Hollywood

The 2017 Academy Awards

of Drug Naming

It’s that glamorous time of the year again.

The awards season is here: the Globes, the Grammys, the Emmys, and the granddaddy of them all, the Academy Awards.

So, why not the Drug Naming Awards? Hollywood has the Oscars, and Drug Naming has––ahem––the Monikers. With a nod to the Oscars, the Monikers are awards honoring all the different kinds of drug names approved over the past year. The nominees are limited to CDER’s (FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research) 2016 list of new molecular entities only. The twenty-two (tongue-in-cheek) nominations were considered in nine different award categories.

The candidates are

Adlyxin, Anthim, Axumin, Briviact, Cinqair, Defitelio, Epclusa, Eucrisa, Exondys51, Lartruvo, Netspot, Nuplazid, Ocaliva, Rubraca, Spinraza, Taltz, Tecentriq, Venclexta, Xiidra, Zepatier, Zinbryta, Zinplava

As in past years, the awards illustrate that drug names, as inscrutable as they sometimes appear, are often the first manifestation of the hope and healing that biopharma companies so righteously aim to deliver to patients, caregivers and physicians worldwide.

Lights. Cameras. ACTION!



Best Short Film

Awarded to the new drug name that is short, impactful.

(Past winner: Ofev.)


TALTZ (ixekizumab) | Eli Lilly



The one-syllable name, TALTZ, waltzed to a win. That is primarily due to the lack of short drug names in Pharma, both one-syllable names (the contraceptive Yaz, and Pretz, an OTC nasal spray) and four-letter names (Ofev and Z-Pak are two). Enough said.


Best Direction

Awarded to the new drug name that best “tells a story,” or that best aligns with the drug’s indication and brand positioning. (Past winner: Ambien.)


ANTHIM (obiltoxaximab) | Elusys Therapeutics

Anthrax Antitoxin


The Best Direction category was crammed with great candidates this year: CINQAIR (“air” for asthma), NETSPOT (“spot” for imaging agent), and OCALIVA (signals a “liver” treatment). But ANTHIM took home the prize by soundly proclaiming its patriotic and uplifting “anthrax” / “anthem” brand story.


Best Original Song/Sound Edit

Awarded to the new drug name that is rhythmically pleasing or music-related.

(Past winner: Lyrica.)


SPINRAZA (nusinersen) | Biogen

Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA)


Because SPINRAZA “spins” like a record, it got the nod over a strong field. The first and only treatment for Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA), SPINRAZA improves motor functions in patients…so they can dance better. Rock on!


Best Editing

Awarded to the new drug name that best links to its non-proprietary, generic name.

(Past winner: Rituxan.)


VENCLEXTA (venetoclax) | Abbvie/Genentech

Cancer Treatment


VENCLEXTA out linked its contenders by encoding the /ven/ prefix and mimicking the /clex/ suffix as overtones of venetoclax, its non-proprietary name. Strong competition from ADLYXIN (lixisenatide), BRIVIACT (brivaracetam), EUCRISA (crisaborle), and LARTRUVO (olaratumab) may suggest a naming trend. Stay tuned.


Best Foreign Film

Awarded to the new drug name that is long, unfamiliar, or visually challenging.

(Past winner: Tysabri.)


DEFITELIO (defibrotide) | Jazz Pharmaceuticals

For Patients with Veno-Occlusive Disease (renal or pulmonary dysfunction)


DEFITELIO was definitely the judges’ favorite. DEFITELIO (partially derived from defibrotide) is a five-syllable mouthful, much like a big bowl of pasta. Fittingly, the U.S. federal trademark registration was filed for DEFITELIO by Gentium S.r.I., a Jazz Pharmaceutical company, located in––where else?­­––Italy. Bello.


Best Cinematography

Awarded to the new drug name with a unique visual appearance.

(Past winner: Xanax.)


XiiDRA (lifitegrast ophthalmic solution) | Shire

Dry Eye Treatment


The judges decided that the i’s have it! The double /ii/ construction visually distinguished XiiDRA from the rest of the field (not unlike the antidepressant drug Viibryd did in 2011). The /ii/ also serves as a visual and verbal double entendre, hinting at multiple ophthalmic features of XiiDRA: 1) it sounds like “eye” (“ZYE-druh”), 2) it treats dry eye disease, 3) it’s applied two times a day, 4) it’s dispensed from two different containers, and 5) the dots on the i’s mimic eyes balls, suggesting eye care. Well played. (Disclosure: Kristen Wiig was not a judge.)


Best Actor

Awarded to the new drug name that has high levels of publicity and/or high projected sales.

(Past winner: Celebrex.)


EXONDYS 51 (eteplirsen) | Sarepta Therapeutics

Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD)


EXONDYS 51, the first drug approved to treat patients with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD), received more publicity than any other drug approval is 2016. FDA approved the drug despite questions about efficacy­­––some say due to patient advocate pressure––fueling scientific criticism. Then U.S. insurer Anthem Inc. announced they were not covering the costly $300,000 per year treatment due to unconvincing treatment evidence. But for the small population of DMD patients who will be treated, EXONDYS 51 triggers excision of “exon 51” to help restore proper functioning. That’s a grand performance!


Best Actress

Awarded to the new drug name that has the most feminine look & feel.

(Past winner: Iressa.)


RUBRACA (rucaparib) | Clovis Oncology

Ovarian Cancer


RUBRACA creates a winning leading lady brand story beginning with the /ru/ prefix from the non-proprietary name rucaparib, followed by the sly innuendo /bra/ letter string to associate it with a female treatment, adding the feminine /ca/ suffix to suggest cancer. Most importantly, the name strongly signals that RUBRACA is indicated for selected patients with "the /BRCA/ mutation." A star is born.


Best Picture

Awarded to the new drug name that is viewed as the best overall drug brand name.

(Past winner: Viagra.)


YOU CHOOSE! (see below.)

The twenty-two candidates:

Adlyxin, Anthim, Axumin, Briviact, Cinqair, Defitelio, Epclusa, Eucrisa, Exondys 51, Lartruvo, Netspot, Nuplazid, Ocaliva, Rubraca, Spinraza,

Taltz, Tecentriq, Venclexta, Xiidra, Zepatier, Zinbryta, Zinplava


I hope you enjoyed this playful look at drug naming as much as I did.

Please send me your “Best Picture” selection, or make a case for the drug name/s that you feel are worthy of praise or comment.

Interested in how the winners were chosen?

Email, or call 415-425-4273.


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