As a British citizen living in England but writing on American drug names, I’m in a perfect position to know that many drugs approved in Europe and the U.K. can have very different names from those in the U.S.
Why is that? Well, to find out, Fierce Pharma Marketing sat down with Scott Piergrossi, president of creative at the Brand Institute, a company that has helped name some of the world’s biggest drugs. He's not explaining the reasoning behind any drug name changes mentioned in this piece, but offering up insight into why different regions may need tweaks—or complete rethinks—in branding for the same drug.
Often, the change in name can be very minor. Let’s take Amgen’s new non-small cell lung cancer drug as an example: In the U.S., the FDA approved the drug as Lumakras, but in in Europe, its counterparts at the European Medicines Agency approved the med as Lumykras earlier this month.
You’ll see this U.S.-Europe divide a lot with drug names—but why? Piergrossi explains that changing a single letter can often provide enough differentiation to satisfy regulatory requirements, which can be different in the U.S. and Europe, “such as changing a vowel to a y, or adding/removing a letter or two.” Just as we see with Lumakras/Lumykras.
Another key reason an agency might reject a name is if they think the name is overly promotional—what the FDA refers to as “misbranding,” such as making misrepresentations about safety or efficacy. Hence, you don’t have antivirals called KillsCOVIDNoSideEffects.
Some examples can seem obvious, but Piergrossi explains there can be more subtle and subjective naming differences that create misleading suggestions in a name.
Take the FDA-approved osteoporosis drug Boniva. In Europe and elsewhere, the drug is sold under the brand name Bonviva. “The latter perhaps suggesting ‘good life’ more so than the former,” Piergrossi says, though he adds that extracting meaning from an invented name, in his experience, is “highly subjective.”
There's also the rare example of a change mandated after the agency has approved a drug and its name. We saw this with Trintellix, an antidepressant from Takeda and Lundbeck. That's its newer name: Originally approved as Brintellix, the drug had to change—per the FDA—given that name's similarity to AstraZeneca’s anti-blood-clotting therapy, Brilinta.
Prescribers were actually confusing the two brands, triggering medication errors. Brintellix still bears that name in Europe and elsewhere.
Sometimes, it just comes down to regional preferences at a company. Global pharmas have global teams working on product marketing and name development. “A regional team might prefer one spelling versus another, assuming they are given the latitude to make those decisions, so the name is modified accordingly,” said Piergrossi.