Choosing a name for a new pharmaceutical product used to be a pretty straightforward proposition. Twenty years ago, most drug
names were descriptive or functional in nature; they relied on the indication, therapeutic category, or generic name for their
The primary goal of descriptive names was to create an identity that would send a clear message to healthcare professionals—the
ones who needed to remember the name and write the prescription.
Descriptive names often relied upon scientific or Latin-based terms familiar to most physicians. So, Spectracef, an oral antibiotic,
took its cue from the generic cefditoren and the antibiotic classes cephalosporins and cephamycins. It used familiar word
parts, which helped first-time hearers more easily understand, accept, and adopt the new name.
A NEW EAR TO TURN
When drug companies started advertising directly to consumers in 1997, names needed to speak not just to doctors and pharmacists,
but also to patients and their families or caregivers. Consumers started taking on a bigger role and asking for certain brands,
and names based on familiar medical terminology weren't so familiar anymore. Consumers usually don't know generic names; they
just know they want to feel better. A new opportunity emerged to communicate benefits directly to consumers by way of more
emotional and aspirational names.
WHAT'S IN A NAME?
Names like Sanctura, Boniva, and Alvesco spring from entirely different creative strategies and involve an attempt to convey
an emotional benefit or a promising message. Sanctura, created for the treatment of overactive bladder, borrows from the word
sanctuary in order to convey a feeling of security and comfort. Boniva, which is used to manage osteoporosis, combines the words bone and viva to suggest the idea of long life. Alvesco, indicated for asthma, is created from the concept of alfresco, to make one think of open air.
In some cases, the name may not represent any tangible benefit. Instead, it may attempt to communicate a tone or feeling the
pharma company wants to embody in the brand. Zyvox, for instance, doesn't have any inherent meaning, but the tone suggest
strength, an important quality for an antibiotic.
A MOB OF NAMES
A practical reason for the shift away from purely descriptive names is the shrinking number of legally available choices.
Approximately 400,000 brands are registered and protected in Class 5 of the US Patent and Trademark Office. This is partly
because of the exponential growth of the industry, but also because each player is taking up more trademark territory.
Most popular names
Medium-size and small firms have joined big pharma companies in applying for trademark protection for their next big idea.
Trademarking names in Phase II and early Phase III can help some smaller companies differentiate and build awareness, but
it means one less name available, even though the product may never leave the lab.
Larger companies claim even more trademark space because of the number of products in their pipelines and their financial
ability to register for many more names than they plan to use immediately.
The strategy is to have a bank of available names should a first-choice name get rejected by the regulatory agencies. Gaining
regulatory approval of names is becoming more difficult due to the potential for medication errors as a result of sound-alike
and look-alike qualities.
NOT REAL ENOUGH
Regulatory agencies have also begun rejecting more names because they feel the names are too fanciful or make a claim that
clinical data cannot support.
Given dwindling options and restrictions, how can your team ensure they are selecting a name that will differentiate your
product—and get approved? Consider then these steps: