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January 31, 2012

The Cure For Skin Cancer Digs Up Hedgehog Brand Name

Pills.pngScience routinely provides us with wackier names than energy drinks.

Take, for example, the first FDA approved drug to help treat advanced cases of
basal-cell skin cancer, the most common type of skin cancer.

The drug, developed with the help of a group called Curis Inc., will be marketed by Genentech Inc. These seem like pretty standard medical-sounding company names. Curis find cures, I guess, and Genentech looks at things related to genes.

But it gets better.

The drug's generic name is "vismodegib," which will be marketed under the Erivedge brand.

Erivedge. Yup. They decided to keep it weird. Say this out loud. It sounds like a vegetable drink. I'm sure the company wants us to focus on the "edge" in the name, however.

The drug, which will set you back a cool $75,000 for a ten-month treatment, functions by inhibiting the "so-called Hedgehog signaling pathway by binding to a protein called Smoothened."

The above sentence was from a New York Times piece on the new drug, and I just had to know more. I had no idea there was a hedgehog pathway in our body. And Smoothened sounds like something you get at a yogurt bar.

But yes, we have hedgehog genes, including two called "Sonic hedgehog homolog and Indian hedgehog b, previously known as Echidna hedgehog." These are a part of the Hedgehog signaling pathway that regulated your growth as a child. The last inhibitor was discovered in 2009 and was called "Robotnikinin."

Robotnikinin! Now that's a cool drug name! It sounds like a character out of a lost sci-fi fairy tale.

Imagine the head of the FDA had to stand in front of the press and make the following statement with a straight face - "Our understanding of molecular pathways involved in cancer, such as the hedgehog pathway, has enabled the development of targeted drugs for specific cancers."

Then he had to pronounce the generic vismodegib name properly.

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Posted by William Lozito at January 31, 2012 8:28 AM
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