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Bizarre Brand Name Drugs Drive Readers Crazy!

Have you tried pronouncing brand name drugs these days? It's enough to make you gag. There's Otezla, Xeljanz, Xarelto or Zytiga. What is it with Xs and Zs?
Bizarre Brand Name Drugs Drive Readers Crazy!
An elderly woman with a tableful of medications looking overwhelmed and confused

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but a drug with the wrong brand name might sell less well. There was a time when pharmaceutical manufacturers created brand name drugs that made sense. Take Synthroid. It is synthetic thyroid medicine. Synthroid is a perfect description for the ingredient levothyroxine. It has been a big best seller. Then there’s the sleeping pill Restoril (temazepam). You do not need a pharmacy degree to figure out that this sedative is intended to help you get some much-needed rest. At the opposite end, there is Provigil (modafinil). It has the FDA’s blessing for easing excessive sleepiness that is brought on by narcolepsy, shift work disorder or obstructive sleep apnea. The name Provigil suggests improved vigilance. It is a stimulant.

Reader Decries Today’s Brand Name Drugs:

Q. How do drug companies come up with such un-pronounceable names for their new drugs? Most of the names don’t seem to be related to the use of the product. Many are advertised on TV and lack any kind of memorable moniker. It’s like having to learn another language.

Older drugs do have memorable and pronounceable names. They are short, like Motrin or Advil, something English speakers can relate to. Is there a formula drug companies use for branding a new product?

A. Branding is a mysterious process. You are right that drug companies used to try and match the name to the condition. Think about sedatives and sleeping pills. Tranxene offered tranquility and Halcion references “halcyon,” a fancy word for a peaceful time.

Evista is a drug developed for osteoporosis prevention and treatment. The generic name is raloxifene. Rumor has it that the namers adopted the word “vista” for its implication of a long or beautiful view because they hoped to convey that women without broken bones have a “better view on life.”

Viagra (sildenafil) is a household name. We’ve been told that the company was hoping to create the impression of vigor, energy, optimism and power. A consultant for the company boasted that:

“After only a few short months on the market, the name Viagra has come to be used as a verb, a noun, and an adjective. The word ‘Viagra’ now signals power and proactivity.”

We’ve been told that Premarin was developed for its origins: pregnant mare’s urine. It was one of the best-selling drugs in America for many years. Now, many women shun this drug for a variety of reasons, not the least because the pregnant mares have been reported to have a pretty dismal life.

Brand Name Drugs that Make Little Sense:

Now, brands such as Otezla (for psoriasis), Xeljanz (for ulcerative colitis) or Xarelto (for blood clot prevention) sound like they come from outer space. You can almost imagine a sci-fi movie where the aliens come from the planet XELJANZ.

We don’t know why Xs, Vs and Zs are so popular in modern brand name drugs. Here are just a few more brand names that don’t make a lot of sense to us:

Xanax (a brand name anti-anxiety agent for alprazolam)

Avastin (a cancer drug known generically as bevacizumab) has earned billions

Rituxan (rituximab) has also earned billions for treating rheumatoid arthritis, chronic lymphocytic leukemia and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Sovaldi (sofosbuvir) is another one of the billion-dollar brand name drugs. It is sold for the treatment of hepatitis C.

Zytiga (abiraterone) is a prostate cancer drug that is quite pricey. A month’s supply could cost over $10,000.

A reader (Phelps…see below in the comment section) brought to our attention two popular antihistamines: Zyrtec (cetirizine) and Xyzal (levocetirizine). Perhaps you have seen the “wise” owl Xyzal commercial. They managed to get an X, Y and Z in that name and come up with an interesting pronunciation. What they don’t mention in the commercial is the potential for post-use itch: Here is a link.

The Itch That Won’t Quit | Itching After Stopping Xyzal (Levocetirazine)

The Bottom Line on Brand Name Drugs:

We agree with our reader that brand name drugs might as well be part of a made-up language from another planet. Perhaps the companies figure that if it is exotic-sounding they can charge exotic prices.

What do you think about brand name drugs? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
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