New Drug Names: A Study in Madness

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Have you noticed that the names of new drugs are not merely obnoxious; they are also bizarre? As if drug companies hired consultants with a complete disdain for the English language? Quviviq? Ukoniq? Seriously? The people (mostly women) who broke the Nazi secret code in WWII couldn't handle this. Plus assorted other rants.

Let's start with a rant.

Although this article is about the ridiculous names of some of the new drugs approved by the FDA in 2022, I simply can't pass on an opportunity to express my hatred of the nightly "Let's Make People Hurl" contest that plagues any of us who are masochistic enough to watch a network national news show.

Yet, I do. But not without having a remote control handy with an oversized mute button locked and loaded. Or a brick. Because you and I both know what is gonna happen when Lester Holt says, "we'll be right back." A barrage of crazymaking drug commercials, each more detestable than the one before (and after) it. The mute button becomes as essential as a canteen of water in the desert.

Rant: Even though I'm hardly the only old crank to bitterly complain about the execrable Ozyempic ad, it would be just plain wrong to spare it my wrath. (If, for some inexplicable reason, you haven't experienced that vile entity and want to give it a whirl, here is a YouTube video that will make you want to swallow a hand grenade.) 

And, for your amusement, here is a site where people answer the question, "Which drug commercial do you hate the most?" Some of them are hilarious. Here's my favorite:

"Mr. Natural" chose the ad for RELISTOR®, a drug for opioid-induced constipation:

"You're taking so many opioids that you can't make poo come out, yet you are still walking the earth, apparently able to work construction. The apocalypse is here, man."

"Mr. Natural," a man with a helluva sense of humor

Pure gold.   

New Drugs and the Perversion of the Latin Alphabet

Remember 1st-grade spelling rules? "I before E except after C." and "The letter Q is followed by U." The sadists who name new drugs must have skipped that year. Or they have adopted a new nomenclature based on the following:

  • All new drugs should contain at least one "V," but more is better. "J," "X," and "Z" are also desirable. It would seem as though drug namers are also Scrabble players since these are four of the most valuable tiles.
  • If you can still pronounce the name, even without a mouthful of salamanders, it's no good.
  • Not only must "U" no longer follow "Q," but this is absolutely forbidden in most cases.

Take a look at some of these beauties:

1. Quviviq ($515 for 30 pills) is a new sleeping pill sold by J&J. (Shockingly, side effects include sleepiness and fatigue). It gets an A- on "Josh's New Drug Name Compliance Scale" (JNDCS) because it has two Vs and two Qs - a superb ratio of 4:7 (V+Q)/total letters. It does lose a point or two because it violates the "U must not follow Q" rules but gains them by ending with a naked Q using the letters QUV in succession. According to the Official Scrabble Dictionary (2), ZERO words meet this criterion. But the Free Dictionary lists both quvl and aquv, although they are acronyms for "Answering Queries Using Views" and "Quedgeley Urban Village Limited," respectively. WTF? Sorry, these ain't names.

2. Pyrukynd ($3,400 for seven pills) is "a pyruvate kinase activator indicated for the treatment of hemolytic anemia in adults with pyruvate kinase (PK) deficiency." I won't comment on its utility (1), just the name. Let's give this one a B+, simply because it lacks both a Q and a V. Shameful. But it makes up for this deficiency with an extraordinary 7:1 consonant-to-vowel ratio, that is, unless you count the Y as a vowel, in which case it drops to a drearily ordinary 5:3. Let's add back a point because it looks like the name of a village in Moldova.

3. Pluvicto ($43,000 per injection) is a therapeutic radiopharmaceutical used to treat prostate cancer. Although its name pales compared to Quviviq it nonetheless gets a B-. It has the highly desirable V but is otherwise not extraordinary because it has three vowels. Since I'm writing this, I also get to change the grade to B. Why? Take out "vic," and you're left with Pluto! How many drugs contain the name of a planet? Perhaps Novartis is looking to expand its market.

4. Daxxify ($120 per shot). Here's what it was approved for: "To treat moderate-to-severe glabellar lines associated with corrugator and/or procerus muscle activity" What the hell does this mean? Wrinkles. Daxxify is a Botox knockoff. The name is interesting because, according to the Scrabble dictionary, there is not a single word with two consecutive X's. But, if you consult the Collins Dictionary, you'll find anti-vaxxer and doxxing, both of dubious quality. But The Free Dictionary, perhaps not the finest arbiter of the English language, has a whole bunch of XX words, but whoever put them in there must have taken a bunch of LSD tabs with a psilocybin chaser. Look at some of these:

  • lxxxviii
  • Invitoxx
  • Lovefoxx
  • Xxgdb

Go ahead. Use any of these in a sentence.

The rest is more or less the same. To sum up, of the 37 new drugs, 26 have J, Q, Z, or V in the names, an appalling lack of creativity if you ask me.

Once a trend...

Scrabble-type drug names are not new. Here are some of the 50 drugs approved in 2021:

  • Vyvgart
  • Leqvio
  • Exkivity
  • Voxzogo
  • Qelbree
  • Ukoniq

But look at some names from approved drugs in 2002:

  • Sirolimus (prevents transplanted organ rejection)
  • Famciclovir (antiviral)
  • Reboxetine (antidepressant)
  • Zaleplon (sleeping pill)
  • Tamsulosin (increases urine flow)

What is going on here?! These resemble real English names, possibly from science fiction movies, but still no QuviviqDaxxify, or Ukoniq.

Why such weird names?

There's a very informative 2022 article in Philadelphia Magazine (or is it Mmaggazzine?) titled

"This Is Why Prescription Drugs Have Such Weird-Ass Names." The things you learn!

Then there are the proprietary or “brand” names, which are a lot more fun — so much fun that in order to come up with them, pharmaceutical companies employ teams of consultants that include copywriters, linguists, “verbal identity specialists” and even poets, who brainstorm ideas inspired, according to one such consultant, by “thesauri and Google, of course, but also cowboy dictionaries, surfer dictionaries, encyclopedias of drugs and minerals, Sanskrit rhyming dictionaries, and the big book of sports metaphors.”

Sandy Hingston, Philadelphia Magazine, 8/6/22 [my emphasis added]

Surfer dictionaries?? Really? This just doesn't sound appropriate for the target audience...

Stan, a mere 12 hours post heart-lung transplant, is able to take on Mavericks because of Qxxvjxxi! Do not take Qxxvjxxi if you are allergic to Qxxvjxxi. Free images: Wikimedia Commons, PxHere


(1) Hemolytic anemia is no laughing matter. It's a serious disease related to lupus and sickle cell anemia.