FDA study asks whether drug names change how consumers, docs view meds

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Do drug names matter when it comes to consumer and healthcare providers? A new FDA study looks to find out. (Pixabay)

The FDA wants to know what, exactly, is in a drug name. Specifically, can a brand moniker determine how consumers and healthcare providers perceive the drug? So, the agency has launched a study to determine whether names sway opinions about a drug's effectiveness.

Drugmakers submit their proposed names to the FDA for approval, but the companies often hire branding agencies to help create a name. The agency’s job is to make up brand names that draw relevant connections but follow FDA guidelines.

For instance, pharma companies have to avoid names that specify a drug's attributes or names that are too similar to those already on the market.

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Still, the issue isn’t as black and white as drugs named CureAll versus FailAll. So researchers in the Office of Prescription Drug Promotion (OPDP) are digging into names in what it calls the first study “to provide a systemic investigation of a variety of proprietary prescription drug names.”

Researchers will ask 500 consumers and 500 healthcare providers—including doctors, nurse practitioners and physician assistants—to answer questions about seven different drug names. One of the names will be be an “extreme, explicitly suggestive name (e.g. CureAll)” while another in the group will be purposefully neutral for two indications, high cholesterol and gastroesophageal reflux disease.

The FDA filing notes, “Target names will vary such that some efficacy implications are more apparent than others, and some will more clearly imply indication or benefits than others. Dependent variables will include indication identification, efficacy, and perceptions.”

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OPDP filed the study to the Federal Register for comment this week, but an FDA spokesperson said research into the effects of drug names on consumer perception is ongoing. In the new filing, OPDP refers to earlier research in 2008 as a starting point for this study.

Drug names can play into pharma companies’ marketing strategies, sometimes with variations on the name or highlighting part of the name. For instance, Shire used the double “ii” in its eye med Xiidra in a campaign to highlight the brand with messages such as "how's iit going?" and “niice to meet you.” Merck & Co. pulled out the middle letters “TRU” of its immuno-oncology drug Keytruda for its “Tru” stories campaign featuring real cancer patients and doctors.

FiercePharma plans its own much less formal “survey” into drug names with the upcoming March Madness-style contest in which we ask readers to vote for the best drug names over the past year. Contest starts March 16—stay tuned!

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