Pharmaguy's Insights Into Drug Industry News
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Pharmaguy's Insights Into Drug Industry News
Pharmaguy curates and provides insights into selected drug industry news and issues.
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If Rx Drugs Had Simpler Names, Would Patients Be More Adherent?

If Rx Drugs Had Simpler Names, Would Patients Be More Adherent? | Pharmaguy's Insights Into Drug Industry News |

People tend to strongly believe that pharmaceutical drugs with simpler and easier-to-pronounce names have fewer dangerous side effects, according to a study in the Journal of Health Psychology.

In three experimental studies, Simone Dohle and Michael Siegrist of the University of ETH Zurich provided groups of participants with names of imaginary medications. The researchers then asked the participants to rate the medications on how many hazardous side effects they believed the drugs had, and on how willing they would be to take or buy the drugs.

Participants consistently rated medications with easier-to-pronounce names to be safer — even though they rated them the same as complicated-sounding drugs in terms of effectiveness.

“In three studies, we found strong evidence that fluency is most relevant for evaluations of drug names,” wrote the researchers. “In general, people judged drugs with simple names as safer, assumed that those drugs had fewer side effects and were more willing to buy those drugs.”

They suggested the findings had importance for medication adherence, and that the results would likely have been even stronger with people with real illnesses evaluating real medications. “Quite possibly, people may react differently when they are really affected by a disease,” wrote the researchers. “However, the existing literature shows that the influence of heuristic cues (such as the complexity of a name) is even more pronounced when people are stressed and distracted. Accordingly, we may have even underestimated the effect of a drug name’s complexity on people’s evaluations and preferences."


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Pharma Gets Drug Names from Octavia Spencer’s Phone Contact List

Pharma Gets Drug Names from Octavia Spencer’s Phone Contact List | Pharmaguy's Insights Into Drug Industry News |

Drugmakers spend big money crafting the names of their new products. Specialists draw on the “personalities” of each letter of the alphabet—which is why we get so many Z’s and X’s—brainstorm dozens of candidates and run their ideas by the FDA for its all-important approval (read “What’s in a Name? Is Naming Rx Drugs an Art or a Science?”;


And they’re prime candidates for spoofing. Just ask Saturday Night Live’s writers, who regularly satirize pharma and its marketing. A March 4 sketch puts forth a unified theory of drug names, articulated by episode host and 2017 Oscar nominee Octavia Spencer, for Hidden Figures.


The setting: An arbitration hearing in a claim against Merck, for stealing the Spencer character’s “intellectual property.” How? The company “named dozens of drugs after members of my family,” she claims.


Never mind that many of the drugs she then cites aren’t Merck products; we’re in SNL-land after all. But here’s how the argument goes. “In December 2004, the company created Seasonique,” Spencer’s character says, holding up a card bearing the Teva contraceptive pill’s logo. Name stolen! Years before that, in 1997, the character had a child, she says, calling that daughter into the room: “Please say hello to Seasonique Boniva Williams.”


The Spencer character goes on to cite her own name—Lyrica, Pfizer’s seizure and pain drug—and a series of others among cousins, neighbors, even a hairdresser. She introduces a colleague, Lunestra, who fell asleep on her keyboard at work, inspiring Merck to call a new insomnia drug by a similar name. And Boniva is, of course, the Roche osteoporosis med marketed by spokeswoman Sally Field.


“These people aren’t coming up with new drug names,” Spencer says. “They’re just flipping through the contacts in my phone.”


The kicker? Her dog’s name is Humira, and winning $20 million in this fictional dispute with Merck means she can “finally put Tylenol through college.”

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Pharma Overuses the Letter Z When Naming Drugs. Why? Asks @jonmrich

Pharma Overuses the Letter Z When Naming Drugs. Why? Asks @jonmrich | Pharmaguy's Insights Into Drug Industry News |

Pharma companies do love to name their drugs using rather uncommon letters. They like to both start their drug names with these letters and mix them throughout the name.


Consider this, the most commonly used letter in English is E. It accounts for 12.7% of all letters used in all the words in the Concise Oxford dictionary. The letter Z, the least commonly used letter, accounts for only 0.07%.


But pharma seems to love Z.


For the drug names considered in this study, the letter Z accounts for 2.52% of all letters used. That's roughly 3,300% different than what would be expected (0.07%).


Z has the largest absolute variance from what is expected. The next letter on the list (X), is only used around 1,100% more than expected. I should note that pharma seems to hate the letter W. It should account for around 2.36% of letters, but it only accounts for 0.06% when it comes to drug names. In fact, it was only used one time [in drug named

ERWINAZE]. Congrats to the brave folks at Jazz Pharmaceutical for breaking with tradition. Wait! They used a Z also, so nevermind.


There's really the only thing that I think explains why all of these drugs seem to use a common naming convention, which I would classify as: using rarely used letters in bizarre combinations making for unpronounceable words.


Knowing what I know of pharma marketing agencies (of which there are a handful that are fully dedicated to this vertical), I wonder how many of these names came out of the same shop. How many came from the same company using their same, seemingly random formula for naming new drugs?


It might be time to look for some different thinking elsewhere.


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Pharma Guy's insight:

Results of three experimental studies showed that complex drug names were perceived as more hazardous than simple drug names and negatively influenced willingness to buy. 

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How Do Drugs Get Their Names? Over 1,400 Brand Names in U.S. Alone!

Who names drugs? Why all the funny names?

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