Everything in a nutshell – PharmaLive


Everything in a nutshell

The naming of trademarks is a difficult question.

By Suzanne Martinez

The naming of brands is one of the enigmas of the pharmaceutical business. Thousands of people may be involved in the work of developing, manufacturing, or promoting a drug brand over its lifetime, but very few can actually touch the decision-making process of the name under which the world will know this mark. Within pharmaceutical companies, naming decisions are typically limited to a small subset of executives; On the outside, while the market is full of successful pharma marketing agencies, there are only a handful of pharma naming experts and consultants, and none are particularly talkative about the details of the naming process. denomination. So even for long-time veterans of pharmaceutical and pharmaceutical marketing and branding, brand naming is a bit of a mystery.

However, I have been fortunate enough to spend many years helping to develop names for pharmaceutical brands. And there’s really no reason to keep it a secret; anyone involved in the pharmaceutical brand business should at least have some idea of ​​how a brand name is chosen and the challenges inherent in that choice. So here is my attempt to clear up the mystery a bit.

How are names created and chosen?

Very carefully. It’s best to start when a compound enters phase III trials, if not before. Each agency has their own proprietary process, but usually the first step is to develop an understanding of the molecule, how it works, what makes it special, what would make someone prescribe it rather than a another, and what the patient experience will look like. A good name should include a clear strategy on what to communicate based on business objectives. Ideally, a name encodes a full story that ticks the box on as many of these goals as possible. Once the brand team understands the asset and defines the brand strategy, it’s time to bring together smart people from diverse backgrounds – mine was in biomedical visualization (aka medical illustration) – to think about creative avenues for the development of names that deliver on the brand strategy. The possible list of resulting names cannot, however, be unlimited; any name that needs serious consideration must go through an aggressive and time-consuming legal review process and must also undergo screening to ensure that nominees’ names overcome regulatory and language barriers. Many brands may also want to do some field research to see how healthcare professionals and patients respond to different names, which adds yet another level of consideration, although it’s not the first priority. Of course, a given company will have several players who will have to weigh in, at the marketing level and often at the company level. Often the naming process goes through multiple development cycles as the team focuses on marketing, business and branding objectives while overcoming potential legal, regulatory and language challenges. Many seemingly strategic names that are perfectly suited to brand goals are going to be shot down along the way for one reason or another, especially if shortcuts in name development were taken to save time.

What makes a good name?

The best names manage to bring branding to life, resonate with healthcare professionals and patients, and differentiate the brand in memorable ways. This could mean coding ideas and/or letters specific to the compound itself, the underlying science, the indication(s); or it could mean conveying a less tangible but equally important emotional benefit; or maybe even several of these attributes in a single name. Achieving all of this, of course, is easier said than done in the regulatory and pharmaceutical branding environment, which is why the real big names in the pharmaceutical industry are hard to find; a good name must overcome regulatory, legal and linguistic challenges while communicating key marketing objectives. It also helps if the names are tonally interesting, relatively easy to spell and pronounce, and consistently pronounced across regions, although these are lower priority goals.

Besides being, you know, a good name, what else is there in choosing a name?

Pharmaceutical brands cannot make unsubstantiated claims. The meaning of a claim can vary from regulator to regulator – in other words, claims can mean different things in different languages ​​and jurisdictions. This means that a potential name must be considered and evaluated in all the languages ​​in which it could be marketed. Have you ever wondered why it’s Gleevec in the US and Glivec everywhere else? Maybe it’s because US regulators had one idea of ​​what “joy” meant and people overseas had another. Champix/Chantix is ​​another example. “Champ” may have sounded like a complaint to one regulator but not another – only those hiding behind the scenes would know the reason, and I guess there is a good one.

The name may not resemble any other pharmaceutical drug brand due to safety concerns. Regulators don’t want an error where someone gets the wrong drug at the pharmacy because the name of the prescription looks or sounds like another drug. Healthcare professionals can still handwrite a prescription, and regulators use tools to assess spelling similarities to other pharmaceutical brand names to gauge how similar the names are to something else. This analysis goes beyond mere spelling similarities; the FDA uses an advanced algorithm called POCA (Phonetic and Spelling Computer Analysis) during brand name review processes to determine spelling and phonetic similarities between drug names. This could be one of the many reasons why we see so many unusual letter combinations in pharmaceutical brand names.

We can all imagine the horror stories that could arise if a brand name or slogan were used in another market without doing proper translation due diligence. So, of course, every potential pharma brand name that is to be used in non-English speaking markets needs to be linguistically vetted to ensure that the name or any part of it does not have meanings weird idioms or negative connotations.

Pfizer chose a name for its little blue pill that communicated power, strength and virility.

What are some of the best pharmaceutical brands?

Viagra. This is an example of a name focusing on something other than functional characteristics; instead, the originator of the name – my former colleague R. John Fidelino – said the intention tonally was to communicate power, strength and manliness. “It expresses the vigour, vigor and vitality that a man was looking to experience and achieve to overcome erectile dysfunction,” Fidelino said. National geographic in a recent interview.1

Celebrex. In this case, the strategy was more likely to promote HCP recall by encoding the generic name prefix – celecoxib – while alluding to the benefits of optimism and celebration that come with chronic pain relief. There is a whole other practice when it comes to determining what the nonproprietary name (generic name) should be. Again, there are regulatory authorities involved here, although separate and distinct from the FDA (in the US) or the EMA (in the EU). The generic name is almost like a mini scientific formula, again with lots of rules about what you can say, what you can’t, and even what part of the name is available for a creative touch (the prefix) by relative to parts of the name that are assigned according to drug class (the radical/suffix). For more information, spend some time on the United States Adopted Names Council (USAN) website (https://www.ama-assn.org/); you will better understand why these generic names are so long and seemingly cumbersome.


Kymriah has a milder name than most oncology drugs, emphasizing the individualized nature of this CAR T therapy.

Kymriah. Many oncology drugs use strong and bold names intended to communicate their effectiveness and potency. Kymriah, however, is CAR T therapy, a form of precision/personalized medicine. The name seems to be designed to sound a bit softer, almost like it’s a person’s name – highlighting a key aspect of this drug through tone rather than specific letter strings. Given the nature of CAR T therapy, how it is developed, and the mechanism by which these drugs work, the Kymriah name does a good job of conveying everything about the highly individualized nature of this therapy.

Is naming fun?

The process of naming pharmaceutical brands is a true blend of science and art – left-brain and right-brain. Marketers are tasked with boiling down all the data, all the marketing goals, all the brand needs into a single word that can survive legal and regulatory processes (often for multiple regions, not just a single country). The brand name is one of many brand elements, but it is often this singular element that opens the door to so many other things, from the logo and visual identity system to the all-important conversation between a patient and his doctor about trying a new drug – in a sense, everything central to marketing can start with a name. Overcoming the many challenges that come with developing a brand name in the healthcare and pharmaceutical industry and being able to accomplish this task of telling a story in one word is something that, despite all the complexities, never gets old. never. Others have said it, and I love the sentiment – “The brand name is your most compelling story reduced to its smallest form.”


  1. Colino, S. (June 10, 2022). “How drugmakers come up with evocative brand names like Viagra and Lunesta.” National geographic. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/article/how-drugmakers-come-up-with-evocative-brand-names-like-viagra-and-lunesta

Suzanne Martinez, Proto Intouch

Suzanne Martinez is Group Director, Strategic Planning for Intouch Proto.

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