Pfizer's Upjohn and Mylan will become Viatris. Wait, haven't we heard that name before?

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Mylan and Pfizer's Upjohn have chosen the name Viatris for their merger. Heard that before? So has Mylan, which already has a subsidiary named Viatris. (Unsplash)

Finding the perfect name is no easy task for a new company, particularly in the exotic world of biopharma monikers. Mylan and Pfizer's Upjohn, working to close their generics megamerger, believe they have a name that strikes the right tone––even if that name is very familiar to one of the partners.

After shareholder and regulatory approval, Mylan and Upjohn will become Viatris, a Latin derivative that represents the new company's "path to three" core goals: "expanding access to medicines, leading by innovating to meet patient needs, and being a trusted partner for the healthcare community worldwide," Mylan said in a release. 

Mylan Chairman Robert Coury, who will take the same job at Viatris, said the companies wanted a name that touted the new drugmaker's dedication to patients. 

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"We wanted a name that would differentiate our new company and clearly explain how we will be a champion for global health," Coury said in a release. 

As well suited as the name might be to the newly merged company's mission, Mylan didn't have to look far for the Viatris moniker. One of Mylan's subsidiaries acquired three short years ago had already claimed the name Viatris.

In July 2016, Mylan snapped up German drugmaker Meda in a $7.2 billion deal aimed at bolstering the drugmaker's OTC franchise. As part of that deal, Mylan also picked up Viatris GmbH, a German specialty drugmaker that Meda snagged in a 2005 deal with private equity firm Advent International valued at $927.5 million. 

Viatris had been sold off to Advent just a few years before by Degussa AG for about a third of that amount––$347 million. 

A Mylan spokesperson could not be reached for comment. 

RELATED: Pfizer's big split is finally here, thanks to a giant generics merger with Mylan

Creative though it may (or may not) be, Viatris follows in a long tradition of spinoffs forced to choose between honoring their precursor company, forging an identity of their own or both––often to eyebrow-raising ends. 

One notable example is AbbVie, once a spinoff of Abbott Laboratories that has since become one of the top-earning drugmakers in the world. In 2012, when Abbott announced the split, the drugmaker said the AbbVie name was a combination of Abbott and “vie,” which references the Latin root “vi,” meaning life. 

Other spinoffs choose to stick with a precursor-honoring combo but are a little less clear on the back half of the name. In 2016, Biogen christened a spinoff of its hemophilia business as Bioverativ: "Bio" taken from the Biogen heritage and "verativ" signifying the commitment to work with patients, caregivers and physicians––for some reason.

Biogen chose not to explain what exactly "verativ" meant in its announcement.

Some spinoff names stick closer to the company's drug portfolio: Take Zoetis, a Pfizer animal health unit spinoff from 2012, for instance. Pfizer said the Zoetis name was derived from the Latin word zoetic, meaning “pertaining to life," and is closely tied to the words zoo and zoology. 

“The name best captures the company’s focus on partnership with veterinarians, livestock producers and companion animal owners by providing innovative products and solutions that advance animal health and human well-being,” said Juan Ramón Alaix, president of Pfizer Animal Health, in a release at the time. 

Others take a more heady approach to naming, like Reckitt Benckiser's choice of Indivior for its 2014 buprenorphine franchise spinoff––a mashup of "individual" and "endeavor"––to denote the drugmaker's development of opioid addiction treatments.

Indivior was already the name of the subsidiary that made and marketed Suboxone Film, later the target of a U.S. Department of Justice marketing probe that led to a $1.4 billion settlement from Reckitt in July that ranked as the single largest federal civil settlement for a pharma on record.

Reckitt later ponied up an additional $700 million to settle six states' claims that Indivior, while under Reckitt's umbrella, misled doctors on the safety of Suboxone. Indivior as a separate entity is still facing a federal probe into its Suboxone marketing.

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