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How To Invent A Catchy Drug Name

RACHEL MARTIN: Cialis, Celebrex, Ambien, Abilify, Symbicort - such fanciful and evocative names. Who makes these things up? Turns out there's a whole cottage industry for pharmaceutical naming. Gary Martin formed his Gary Martin Group to do just that. He joins us from the studios of KALW in San Francisco. Welcome to the program, Gary.

GARY MARTIN: Well, thank you.

R. MARTIN: So you do this for a living. What makes a good drug name?

G. MARTIN: A great drug name needs to be memorable. It needs to be easy to say. It needs to be easy to write and understand. And it also needs to be clear of any existing names that may be on the registers.

R. MARTIN: Those names I just rattled off, there is something science-y about them, for lack of a better descriptor.

G. MARTIN: The starting place for pharmaceutical naming is dealing with the science. What we're prohibited from doing in naming drugs in making any kind of claim that may be unsubstantiated or making any kind of promise. So for example, for a weight-loss drug, we could not call it Othina because that would be an overpromise. So the regulations restrict us from what we can do with names. And we have to adhere to that.

R. MARTIN: Can you tell me the story of Rogaine?

G. MARTIN: It was originally called Regain. Regain was originally proposed to the FDA for this hair-growing product. And it was thrown back at the manufacturer Upjohn because it was overpromising, suggesting that everybody could grow hair. So what they did was they just changed one vowel, and it became Rogain.

R. MARTIN: So the FDA does step in sometimes and overrules your creative process.

G. MARTIN: Yes, it does.

R. MARTIN: Can you give us an example of a drug that, in your professional opinion, was just given the perfect name.

G. MARTIN: I think a name that I was associated with years ago is Enbrel.

R. MARTIN: Remind us what it does.

G. MARTIN: Enbrel is for arthritis. Its science is very complex. And so what we wanted to do was make that complex, injectable drug very friendly. And so it became Enbrel, enabling really.

R. MARTIN: How do you come up with names? What's your starting point in a brainstorming session?

G. MARTIN: The starting point is probably the science. What we have to do is understand what that drug is so then we can transform it into some kind of - I'll call it a platform for hope and confidence. In other words, a name is not just a name.

R. MARTIN: Gary Martin is president of the Gary Martin Group. He joined us from the studios of KALW in San Francisco to talk about naming pharmaceuticals. Thanks so much, Gary.

G. MARTIN: Thank you.

R. MARTIN: We'd love to hear you indulge your creative process. Tell us what you think would be the perfect name for a drug. Send your suggestions to our Facebook page, or you can send us a tweet @NPRWeekend. I am @RachelNPR. This is NPR news. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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