Could Medicines Have Less Silly Names?

Like many people who page through fashion magazines looking at clothes they could not possibly afford or Tuscan palazzos they could never afford to rent, I enjoy thumbing through publications looking at ads for drugs that are far out of my price range. One of my favorites goes by the brand name Dupixent, which massively shrinks nasal polyps. It lists for over $3,000 a month and apparently still can cost over $1,000 after the insurance company ponies up a good chunk of the tab. The palazzo would be cheaper.

Nothing about the word Dupixent suggests that it solves previously intractable sinus problems. Couldn’t the drug company call it No More Polyps! or Shrink ’em Fast!the way makers of any other breakthrough product would?

One of life’s great mysteries is why popular medications have weird names that make no sense. Generics, arguably, are the worst: Sulfamethoxazole-Trimethropim, just for instance, is not a name that comes tripping off the tongue. Neither are Lisinopril, Ipratropium Bromide or Bupropion, all generic names of common medications found in many fine medicine cabinets.

But many brand names, chosen by pharmaceutical companies after great market-research expense, are only somewhat less weird. Voltaren, used to ease arthritis pain, is easier to remember and say than Diclofenac Sodium. “Hey, could you pass me a vial of that Flonase over there?” comes more readily to the tongue than “Are you guys having a sale on Fluticasone Propionate this week?” On the other hand, is Qbrelis really an improvement over Lisinopril?

If the Quaker-Oats Company had christened its beloved kiddie cereal Lipitor instead of Cap’n Crunch, it would have sunk without a trace.

I don’t want to tell people who have come up with some remarkable new drug how to run their business, but I just don’t get these names. It seems to me that if you’re going to ask some people to shell out up to $12,000 a year to get their sinuses fixed, the miracle cure should have a fancy moniker, like SinoVinctus or NecroNostril.

Imagine if the Byzantine nomenclature process favored by Big Pharma had been used in other industries. If the Quaker-Oats Company had christened its beloved kiddie cereal Lipitor instead of Cap’n Crunch back in 1963, it would have sunk without a trace. Marketed as Acetaminophen or Xanax, neither Wheaties nor Rice Krispies would have been able to go toe to toe with Cheerios and


Frosted Flakes. And Lucky Charms would have clocked them.

Similarly, if one of America’s most famous soup companies had marketed its Campbell’s Chunky Healthy Request Hearty Italian-Style Wedding with Meatballs and Spinach Soup as Hearty Levothyroxine, I don’t think the public would have lapped it up. If the Beatles had branded themselves as The Mupirocins when they emerged from Liverpool in the early ’60s, would they have become the most famous rock band of all time? No lo creo.

One obvious criticism of drug names is that they do not evoke the magic of the item being offered. Car companies through the years have used flashy names like Mustang and Cougar to describe their products. Nobody purchasing a Range Rover or a Lamborghini is going to confuse it with an Element.

More ‘Moving Targets’

But that is exactly what happens with Pregabalin, a perfectly fine medication with a goofy name. Pregabalin, the generic version of the more mellifluously titled Lyrica, is a swell drug that helps people’s muscles to relax so they can get to sleep. But Pregabalin doesn’t sound like a wonder drug. It doesn’t sound like anything.

Am I suggesting that drug companies should start giving their products catchier names like Snickers or Skittles? No, and the public would probably be suspicious of antidepressants with names like Charmin or No More Tears. Still, there must be a middle ground between that and Polyethylene Glycol.

By the way, there’s a generic name for that paradigm-busting sinus drug, Dupixent, with the fancy brand name meant to make it easier to remember. The real, unvarnished name is Dupilumab.

Thanks for the upgrade, guys.

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