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Drug Names Seem to Come From Another Universe

From Advair to Zytiga -- and everything inbetween

I’ve given some thought lately to all those drugs and vaccines the pharmaceutical industry has come up with – drugs to cure everything from toenail fungus to male pattern baldness to dire cancers. I haven’t been thinking so much about the drugs themselves as the names companies have given them.

These names they’ve come up with (such as Xiaflex) seem to come from some alien language born in the scientific world from another galaxy. They bring up an image of exoticness. They aim to assure customers that, yes, here’s a potent substance that has power to cure (like mysterious chanting done by a Native American medicine man).  

Looking at Pfizer’s Xiaflex (chemical name: collagenase clostridium histolyticum) – here’s a drug designed to treat claw hand, in which fingers become bent toward one’s palm. The only part of the word Xiaflex that relates to the condition it treats is “flex.” I’m not sure where they came up with the “Xia” – there was a Xia dynasty in China about 2,000 years before the birth of Christ.

Instead of Xiaflex, I’d suggest using the name Flexsave, except that may sound too much like a relatively cheap over-the-counter drug sold at Safeway.

I read briefly about how drug companies come to name their products. Sometimes they hire outside companies to come up with the names. Drug names, for example, have to be unique enough so they can’t be confused with another drug’s name. Ziaplan (my word invention) could be confused with Zeaflan.

Here are some examples of current drug names. GlaxoSmithKline makes Avandia (sounds a bit like the Avanti automobile), Zofran (is it to treat zoo animals?), Paxil (pax often means “peace”), and the more unusual Wellbutrin (does it make one’s butt well?).

Baxter International’s drug Gammagard is used to treat immune system disorders and may prove effective against Alzheimer’s disease. “Gamma” has a great variety of meanings and “Gard” could mean guard. I will say this: Gammagard certainly has a less exotic sound than Xiaflex.

Then there’s Propecia, a drug to prevent hair loss and an enlarged prostate gland in men. “Pro” carries a hint of “professional” or “for something.” Another name for the drug is Proscar, but I fail to see how the “scar” in Proscar would be seen as a positive.

Here are some more: Prolia (another “pro”), Victoza (now being touted by Paula Dean – does the “Vic” bring up an image of victory?), Crestor (sounds too much like Crest toothpaste), and Embrel (Scrabble players love to use “em,” an eligible word representing “M.”)

Here are some really off-the-wall drug names: Bapineuzumab (sounds like a despotic ruler in ancient Mesopotamia) and Solanezumab (Bapineuzumab’s son).

Gardasil is used to treat HPV (human papillomavirus). But doesn’t it sound too much like Clearasil (an over-the-counter anti-zit preparation)?

“Advair” sounds like General Motor’s short-lived car of the 1960s, the Corvair.

Then there’s the over-the-counter drug Lipo-Flavonoid, designed to reduce ringing in the ears. “Lipo” usually means fat, as in liposuction, so I’m mystified by its use in this brand name.

Here are some more really obtuse names: Yervoy, Zytiga, and Xgeva. Drug-namers have an affinity for the X, Y and Z portion of the alphabet.

Let’s say we’re looking for a brand name for a drug to reduce the craving for nicotine and tobacco. How about “Nicaway” or “Cigfree?” Dorky, I know, but not pretentiously exotic.  

All these drugs out there, expensive to develop, expensive to test, expensive to market, and sometimes very expensive to produce – often make our lives better or at least bearable. But the downside is the side effects which can strike some and not others. Our bodies are so complex (with all the parts interconnected and interrelated) – that sometimes drugs seem like brute force solutions. As they say, sometimes the treatments can be worse than the disease.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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