Drug Superheroes

In each of these pairs of drug names one is actual, one is fictional. Can you tell which is which? Fans of Stephen King, MadTV and Star Trek will have an advantage.

The choices: Norvasc & Novril; Qualex & Seroquel; Klonopin & Retinax; and Tretonin & Diazepam. In the third and final part of this series, Lifestyle Superstars, we’ll share the answers.

Nothing short of wild success will satisfy today’s prescription drug marketers. That’s why pharmaceutical makers – surpassing even new parents’ efforts at naming a baby – lay out between $250,000 to $2.5 million for developing just one name of each new trademarked drug.

With these high stakes, imagine the intense pressures on wordsmiths toiling behind the scenes. Drug names after all stand a one-in-three chance of government rejection. So the name-makers then often prepare a whole batch of new names to offer.

As the name-making process proceeds, marketing researchers turn to hundreds of paid volunteers for reactions. Graphologists, too, analyze mock prescriptions for possible confusions. And clinicians and patients rate the names for impressions.

Developers take several approaches. They can, for instance, invent names that conjure up experiences of the target market. This approach results in names like Wellburtrin or Celebrex. They can also try to evoke memories, stories and other types of association, and produce names such as Soma or Viagra. Sometimes the name harks back to the drug’s function, as in the case of Lipitor.

And then they have the usual linguistic bag of tricks. Do you want speed? Use fricatives like F, S, X or Z. These sound fast, as in Xanax or Zocor.

Want power? Put in plosive letters like P, T or D, as in Tramadol or Paxil.

Offering a lifestyle enhancer? Softness might work best by using C, S or L, as in Lunesta or Celebrex.

Name-makers sometimes make choices by transposing letters from another word into anagrams, and sometimes they conjure up palindromes so that the name spells the same forwards and backwards, as in Xanax.

And you might notice that many pharmaceuticals either use the action-suggestive verb-common letter R, or contain a verb-sounding element inside themselves.

Some of the latest names to be approved show signs of all these tactics:

- Exelon Patch

- Exforge

- Nuvigil

- Xyzal

- Soliris

- and a personal favorite, Perforomist

In the world of pharmaceuticals, name-makers seldom take their eyes offtheir prize, the target market. Commercial messages direct to consumers on television appear more often for medicines than for new cars in the US. So as rigorously guarded as brands of big pharma product names are, the drugs themselves will sometimes be repackaged under entirely new names when new market segments are discovered. The drug has essentially had its personality split.

Such is the case with the pharmaceutical, Fluoxetine. As the famous anti-depressant Prozac, its white and green pills offered strength and speed. But when a different market was identified – women with severe premenstrual problems – the drug underwent a sex change to appear in a softer second form as pink and lavender pills known as Sarafem.

This leads toward a new type of name for a new type of drug. Emerging lifestyle drugs and their monikers are designed to address desires rather than medical necessities. They may even be positioned with other brands and activities far outside the pharmaceutical world. If the lifesaving drugs are the superheroes, the lifestyle drugs are the superstars.

In the upcoming Drug Superstars, we’ll look at some of these new drugs, and the ways their names spread around the world.

More from Joseph JK . . .