the product naming blog

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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August 3, 2011

Federal Court Opens the Way to Naming and Branding Genes


Thumbnail image for genesimage.jpg

A Federal court just ruled that corporations can patent genes, and where there are patents there are brand names.

It seems that Myriad Genetics Inc. of Salt lake City was "entitled to two breast cancer gene patents used to predict whether women have a higher risk of developing breast cancer or ovarian cancer." The head of the company released a statement saying "This decision is in the best interests of the agriculture, biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries, as well as the hundreds of millions of people whose lives are bettered by the products these industries develop based on the promise of strong patent protection."

A judge in New York had previously ruled that pieces of DNA were not patentable because they were "products of nature." The American Civil Liberties Union backs this, saying "Human DNA is not a manufactured invention, but a natural entity like air or water. To claim ownership of genetic information is to unnecessarily block the free exchange of ideas."

Hmmm. I have to wonder what this means for the "puppet master genes that control the spread of prostrate cancer. I'd love to name them, and assure you I'd start with the names of demons, although "puppet master" sounds pretty awful.

The reason Myriad prevailed here is due to the fact that DNA isolated from the body is "markedly different" than the stuff in a real chromosome. But the catch is that the process to isolate the gene is not patentable. That's like saying Coke is patentable but bottling it is not, in my opinion.

The fact is, thousands of human genes have already been patented. The problem is the development of the tests, and Myriad feels that without the entire process being patented, they will have wasted their money and research dollars.

Once they have the patent, they can prevent others from researching the gene. That means, in real terms that they can help call the shots on things like the test for breast cancer, which at one point cost a cool $1,000 and now is three times as much.

Right now, the genes in question are called BRCA1 and BRCA2, which are really pretty uninspiring names.

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May 23, 2011

Bayer Needs To Speed Up Its Advanced Aspirin Product Naming

Sometimes, product naming gives me a headache.

Take, for example, the news that Bayer Aspirin is giving us a faster-acting aspirin in hopes of taking back lost sales in the over-the-counter pain-reliever sector, and attracting younger buyers.

BayerAdvanced.pngThe Washington Post solemnly informs us that "expanding the demographic of users is key to budging Bayer's 14.6 percent market share" and consumers' number one complaint is that the stuff just does not work fast enough.

How fast is fast? Well, the average dose of regular Bayer Aspirin starts working in 100 minutes and the new formulation, called Bayer Advanced Aspirin, starts working in just 16 minutes.

Never mind that the real culprit as far as lagging sales are concerned, seems to be the rise in generics (Aspirin is a double generic: you can sell it under any name, as it has become genericized).

A glance at the box of Bayer Advanced Aspirin has me scratching my head. Where, may I ask, do we learn about the astounding fast acting qualities of this new product?

It is called "Advanced," and we are then told it is "Extra Strength" and that it has "Pro-Release Technology" behind it.

Now, doesn't "Pro-Release" sound alot like "Slow-Release?" Like you see on some allergy medications? And don't we know that this would completely defeat the purpose of the new product?

Yes, it does say "Fast, Safe Pain Relief" but really, shouldn't we add that this new formulation works up to five times faster?

Faster is the magic word here, not fast!

Aspirin in any form is the mildest over-the-counter pain reliever you can buy. Aleve or Motrin 800 are far more powerful. Consumers know this. Aspirin is seen as an old-school pain reliever. This is why consumers seem to be taking it more to prevent stroke and heart attacks than to kill headaches.

A recent Bayer campaign even suggested that some of the great minds of history would not have been as effective without Aspirin, a campaign that only underlines the fact that aspirin is pretty retro pain relief.

Some bloggers feel that the Bayer brand is too diluted, and is not tightly associated with pain relief.

I disagree. Bayer Aspirin is the gold standard of aspirin brands. And studies have shown that while consumers may happily buy generics to save money, they believe that the branded remedy is more effective.

Bayer's major means of revamping the brand and the product materialized when it became clear that it could start working in sixteen minutes.

Why are they not banging that drum harder? Why call it "Advanced" when you could call it "Faster?" (Regulatory reasons, I guess).

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April 27, 2011

Condom Product Naming and Branding Faces Stiff Competition

The world of condom product naming and branding is highly competitive, as two developing news pieces point out. The battle between Meyer Laboratories (who owns the ultra-thin Kimono brand) and Church & Dwight (who owns Trojan) has escalated over the latter's use of "planograms."

Trojan has used these plans to entice retailers to promote Trojan condom displays over other brands in exchange for kickbacks on condom sales.

condom-shelves.jpgNot surprisingly, this has evolved into a legal issue, with Meyer labs arguing that this practice is anti-competitive (Trojan has grown from 64% of the market in 2001 to 75% in 2008). Meanwhile, Trojan's main competitor, Lifestyles, has deflated from 13% to 7.7% over the same period.

The lesson here, of course, is if customers can't see your brand name, they won't buy it. In an effort to fight back, Meyer filed 12 counter-claims against Trojan in 2009, "including violations of the Sherman Act, California professional and business codes, violations of California laws on exclusive dealing and secret rebates, tortious interference, unfair competition and trademark violations."

Meanwhile, Durex has plans for a new condom from Futura Medical that actually has a vascodilator (think Viagra) coating to help men who deflate while putting on condoms.

CSD500 is the current product name, but medGadget "imagine[s] that Durex, the manufacturing and distributing partner, will have a spicier nom de guerre when it goes on sale."

The magic ingredient is called Zanifil and is already being called "Viagra for condoms." Scheduled to be available in Europe with a new name by the end of the year, many believe that this will help "normalize" condoms and further promote safe sex.

Although, I doubt it will need its own display, since innovative products like this usually tend to sell themselves until the competitors create a copycat.

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January 4, 2011

Naming of Drugs Will Drive You Crazy

The New York Times Freakonomics blog has an interesting post about drug naming that explains why so many drug brand names "are loaded with x's and z's."

Pills.pngAccording to one expert, these letters make them "more visible" in the crowd of competing pharmaceuticals. "If you meet them in running text, they stand out,"
said another industry leader.

The trend of creating strangely spelled drugs is relatively recent, of course, because of the flood of new drugs being introduced to the market every year.

In fact, the naming of drugs is like the naming of cats, says the British Medical Journal. Drugs get three names; a chemical name, a generic name and a brand name.

This reflects the poem by T.S. Eliot, called The Naming of Cats: "You may think at first I'm mad as a hatter/When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES."

But finding that brand name is an art as well as a risk: "The right name can give a drug cachet. The wrong name can lead to serious medical errors."

The errors occur when similarly spelled brand names are prescribed, like Toradol versus Tramadol, or Clozapine versus Clanzapine.

Nonetheless, we can still expect to see strange names that will grab our attention, as well as some new, aggressive advertising that will also raise a few eyebrows.

Let's face it, making drugs interesting and memorable that solve things like Incontinence is pretty tough.

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