Name-calling: The FDA needs your ideas for locking down brand monikers

Start with an X or a Z. Make an active but abbreviated reference to a molecule. Advertising experts have a few tricks up their sleeves when concocting a drug's proprietary name--like Zytiga, Xtandi and Xeljanz--which might just thrust the product to astounding success. And now, the FDA has marketers giddy with a request for information that hints it might allow drug companies to reserve these names in advance--with a few rules.

The FDA is looking to minimize risk from medication error by revising the timeline for getting proprietary drug names approved and has opened up the floor to industry for discussion. The agency has asked for input on an approach for "tentative acceptance" of a proprietary name--still allowing the agency to change it at the last minute, if need be. Companies, lawyers and other interested parties have been asked to address not only the broad strokes--such as whether reserving a name would be binding--but small details, too, including how long a name might be kept on a shelf for future use.

Other opportunities for weighing in: How could the FDA improve the "predictability" of a thumbs up--or thumbs down--for a particular brand-name proposal? Could the industry handle some parts of the name-selection process on its own, perhaps with voluntary postings of proposed names? What mechanisms could be used to make the name-application process simpler? And from the frustrated among you, the FDA wants examples of when drug launches hit the wall because of name-related red tape.

The public discussion is part of the FDA's Prescription Drug User Fee Act IV--one of several performance goals the agency promised to meet in 2007 to help reduce medication error. The request for comments was published in the Federal Register on July 28.

Naming a drug--a matter for expert marketing consultants--is one serious process. A study back in 2008 found that letters matter, to say the least. There's Z for speed; L, R and S to calm and relax; hard consonants like P, T and K express effectiveness; and X, which somehow denotes modern science. Experts revealed last January that drugmakers want names that not only are memorable but also evoke positive feelings in doctors and patients. These days, a memorable name often comes with an X, Z or both, to make it sound more innovative.

- here's more from the Federal Register