Eisai taps its native tongue for beauty and health as it names freshly approved Alzheimer's drug Leqembi

Eisai nabbed an accelerated FDA approval last week for its new Alzheimer’s disease drug, and we now have a new entry into the drug name world in Leqembi.

While Eisai has in part gone for the standard “throw in a bad Scrabble hand” approach to drug naming, there is nuance here. The “Le” is simply for lecanemab while “qembi” is (very) roughly translated in Japanese to “beautiful, healthy and elegant,” Eisai said, with an extra meaning as the company’s headquarters is based in Japan.

And this could be a major name: Analysts at Evaluate Vantage see sales reaching $3 billion in 2028 in what they see as the highest sales potential of any drug to be approved this year, but there is much baggage Eisai must offload if it wants to make Leqembi a success.  

The pharma said in an interview with Fierce Pharma that when it comes to the drug’s launch: “We’re going to be doing it in a very meticulous, careful way.”

That comes as no surprise: Eisai did not talk on its marketing plans for Leqembi this year (and it will need full approval to roll these out without limitations), but everything it does will fall under the shadow of Aduhlem, the Biogen-partnered Alzheimer's drug controversially approved in 2021 by the FDA.

That drug, which came with a high price tag and questions over efficacy and safety, bombed commercially and came with some questionable and ineffective marketing techniques that did nothing to help revive its fortunes.

This includes an online symptoms quiz from Biogen and Eisai that asked questions to reveal a potential Alzheimer’s diagnosis. But even when you answered “No” to all the questions, it still told the user to talk to their doctor, using an old ploy by pharma that sees it targeting consumers' concerns over what could be a chance occurrence.

This quiz was criticized by Matthew Schrag, M.D., an assistant professor of neurology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, in an interview with Fierce Pharma Marketing.

There was also a major print campaign for Aduhelm in the summer of 2021, including an ad series in The New York Times that used a fake couple in "Jim and Jane" to encourage people to get tested in an indirect, educational campaign, but it never really took off and, despite what was likely a high-cost campaign, failed to help boost sales for the drug, which only ever brought in a few million dollars and has now been all but removed from the market.