The inside story behind Pfizer and BioNTech's new vaccine brand name, Comirnaty

Comirnaty. It’s a name we’ll all know soon.

The new brand name for Pfizer and BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine, Comirnaty mashes up community, immunity, mRNA and COVID—pretty much everything that could fit into the moniker for the world's most high-profile product at the moment.

How did those concepts become a brand? We asked the naming agency behind both Comirnaty and its non-proprietary name, tozinameran—industry heavyweight Brand Institute, which began working with BioNTech in April. Pfizer joined the effort shortly after, when the duo’s vaccine collaboration was announced.

“The name is coined from Covid-19 immunity, and then embeds the mRNA in the middle, which is the platform technology, and as a whole the name is meant to evoke the word community,” Scott Piergrossi, Brand Institute president of operations and communications, said. 

The goal in naming drugs is to overlap ideas and layer meaning into a name, he said. In this case, the high-priority concepts the teams started with were COVID immunization and the mRNA technology. The clients themselves came up with community as an image and association they wanted to elicit, Piergrossi said.

So that’s the Co- prefix, followed by the mRNA in the middle, and ending with the -ty suffix, which nods to both community and immunity. Plus, community and immunity are conceptually mnemonic across the entire name.

“Identifying those word parts and plugging into the community concept really executed nicely at the end of the day,” Piergrossi said.

Comirnaty is pronounced phonetically as koe mir' na tee, while tozinameran is toe zi na' mer an.  

The tozinameran generic name was established in two parts, Piergrossi explained. The first half, tozina-, is the invented prefix required by the World Health Organization, while the second half -meran is the required suffix for new mRNA vaccines. 

Comirnaty has been officially approved by Swiss and European regulators, and the nonproprietary tozinameran has been approved by the WHO. While the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine has been approved for emergency use in the U.S., the brand name awaits FDA approval.

Of course, Comirnaty was not the only name BioNTech and Pfizer considered. The list of also-rans include Covuity, RnaxCovi, Kovimerna—all names BioNTech filed in June with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Another possible, RNXtract, was filed in August.

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Along with the short timeline, Brand Institute realized the weight of the vaccine’s name, even as it juggled the trademark, safety, linguistic, marketing and legal issues that come with every drug name’s development and eventual approval.

“It was a challenging project relative to other projects because there’s so much invested in this product—from a global economy standpoint, from a health and emotion standpoint,” Piergrossi said, adding that the agency was "humbled by the scale of the project and the implications of the name."

Other vaccine candidates yet to be officially named include Moderna’s, which the FDA authorized for emergency use last Friday, and Johnson & Johnson’s, which is expected to report its first late-stage data in January and file for approval shortly thereafter.

What might those names be? Moderna’s trademark requests include Spykevax, filed in September, and Spikevax, submitted in October. Earlier filings with the trademark office include Mnravax and Mvax—both filed in January—along with Covid Mvax and Covidvax in April.

The PTO database shows all filings in capital letters, so there is room for additional creativity or distinction with letters in the middle capitalized. SpikeVax, for instance.

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Moderna initially filed in January four variations that included the city name “Wuhan,” including Wuhan Vax and Wuhan Corona MVax, but those are now listed in the database as “abandoned.”

J&J, on the other hand, filed for a handful of likely candidates—Rezymnav, Rezymden, Fampelsen, Aqcovsen, Evcoyan, Abfivden, Jcovden, Ovcinden and Jcovav—as vaccine trademarks on Oct. 9.

 "Ultimately the formula for success in naming is a strong distinctive name with meaning that over time will hopefully [come to] stand for or symbolize the hope and innovation that the underlying product itself is for," Piergrossi said.