Timothy O'Shea, MS, PharmD
Timothy O'Shea, MS, PharmD, is a Clinical Pharmacist working at a regional health insurance plan on the east coast. Additionally he works per diem at a nationwide retail pharmacy chain. He graduated from MCPHS University - Boston in 2015 and subsequently completed a PGY-1 Managed Care Pharmacy Residency. He completed his M.S. in Health Services Administration, with a focus on Health Economics and Outcomes, in 2018. His professional interests include pharmacy legislation and managed care pharmacy. He can be followed on Twitter at @toshea125.
Naming a new prescription drug is a long and complex process, costing upwards of $2.25 million.
“Coming up with a brand name used to be an afterthought,” said Bill Trombetta, professor of pharmaceutical marketing at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. “But today, pharmaceutical companies realize that they need to brand drugs as early as they can and build equity in that brand.”
By the time a drug has completed phase I clinical testing in humans, most companies are already working to develop a brand name.
To do so, drug manufacturers often work with branding agencies that use large databases to help them generate unique names. The generated names often use linguistic tricks such as plosive letters (P, T, D, K, Q, and hard C) to convey power, or fricative letters (X, F, S, or Z) to imply speed.
But authority over pharmaceutical trade names ultimately rests with the FDA and the US Patent and Trademark Office. The FDA prohibits names that imply efficacy or are associated with the intended indication.
As a result, marketers often look for names that subtly and indirectly convey an idea, suggesting improved quality of life. Still, the FDA fully rejects one-third of the hundreds of names proposed annually.
Here is a list of 15 commonly prescribed drugs with the origin of their name:
1. Ambien - Used as a sleeping aid, the word Ambien translates as “good morning” (AM = morning, Bien = good in Spanish).
2. Fosamax - Used for osteoporosis, or bone weakening. (Os = bone and max = great in Latin).
3. Flomax and Rapaflo - Used in men with an enlarged prostate to maximize urine output, or flow.
11. Tylenol - Traces back to its chemical name “N-aceTYL-para-aminophENOL.”
12. Viagra - Named for its suggestion of vitality, virility, and virgor and because it rhymes with Niagra, signifying force and endurance. It is also theorized that the name was inspired by the Sanskrit word "vyaghra" which means tiger.
13. Vicodin - Its component hydrocodone is approximately 6 times as potent as codeine. Therefore, it is thought that the manufacturer named it VI (6 in roman numerals) times codin (codeine)
14. Warfarin - Derived from WARF (Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation) and –arin from coumarin. Most of the people involved in discovery of the original molecule were students of the University of Wisconsin.
15. Xarelto - Works by inhibiting Factor Xa in the clotting cascade
What other drug name origins are you familiar with? Tweet them @toshea125.
- Clarke G. The Origins of 5 Well Known Drug Names. Pharma IQ. Web. 6 Sept 2015.
- Ipaktchian S. The name game. Stanford Medicine Magazine. Web. 6 Sept 2015.
- Koven S. How are drugs named? Boston.com. Web. 6 Sept 2015.
- Poquette J. Origins of Prescription Drug Names. The Honest Apothecary. Web. 7 Sept 2015.
- Wick J. What's in a Drug Name? Journal of American Pharmacists Association. 2004;44(1).