Who Makes Up Those Crazy Drug Names Anyway?

Xeljanz. Sylatron. Tamoxifen. Are they robots? Are they aliens? No – they’re brand names for pharmaceuticals. You might be inclined to ask, "Why would anyone choose such a bizarre and complicated name for a product as important as medication?" They’re hard to spell, hard to say, and good luck to the patient who can remember it!

There’s a method to the madness though. When selecting from potential brand names for a new drug, one has to consider a fairly large set of criteria. First, they have to be distinct from other names and avoid having letters next to one another that look similar. This is so that when they are hastily scribbled on a prescription pad by a busy doctor, they are still distinguishable if the pharmacist has to guess at a few letters. Incorrect dispensing of medication is the most common pharmacy error, accounting for around 72 percent of mistakes in the trade.

Secondly, pharmaceutical companies fight for brand recognition and vigorously defend any perceived threats, so the new medication name must pass the gauntlet of lawyers from other companies. Many pharmaceutical names fail in this category as competitors looks to stonewall one another.

Finally, the most significant hurdle to get over is the FDA, which rejects around four out of every ten name ideas. This was spurred in part by the widespread confusion between Celebrex (an NSAID) and Celexa (an antidepressant) in the late nineties. If you can pass all these hurdles, and manage to give it a name that implies some sort of benefit, then you’ve got a winning formula.

Convincing the patient to actually use the medication properly, however, is another matter!

How do prescription drugs get such crazy names?. (2017). Theweek.com. Retrieved 14 August 2017, from http://theweek.com/articles/461165/how-prescription-drugs-such-crazy-names

Timmerman, L. (2017). Why Are Drugs Getting Such Weird Brand Names? | Xconomy. Xconomy. Retrieved 14 August 2017, from http://www.xconomy.com/national/2011/05/09/why-are-drugs-getting-such-weird-brand-names/2/#

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