Pill Heds

I've been thinking about drugs names. I don't think I'm alone in my occasional scrutiny of these mysterious, often ridiculous, sometimes brilliant confabulations. (The pharmaceutical business spends a good chunk of their budget on branding and naming and I think this tangential element of design justifies my assessing the results, no? I'm not going into the logo design here, but see this amusing step by step "review" of Ablixa.)

Huge potential money-makers like psychopharmacological agents and erectile dysfunction buttresses have particularly high stakes in naming and design. According to Medscape the cost in 2001 of consultation on naming alone ranged from $100,000 to $700,000. Elsewhere I read the numbers are "easily" $500,000 up to a couple million.

Each drug receives 3 names:
• the chemical name—usually a string of prefixes, numbers and a lot of "ethyls" and "phenyls"
• the International Nonproprietary Name (INN, also known as the generic name)— these names are created from a standardized group of "stem" components which represent different classes of drugs (eg. anti-inflammatories, antidepressants)
• the brand name

here's an example:
  • chemical name 7-chloro-1,3-dihydro-1 methyl-5-phenyl-2H-1,4-benzodiazepin-2-one
  • generic name diazepam (-azepam is used for many antianxiety agents)
  • brand name Valium
Names have to be memorable, convey something medicinal and curative, not interfere with international marketing (ie. should not sound like "bad luck" in Chinese) and not be too similar to something already out there. This last criterion is not only for marketing purposes— the FDA evidently rejects 4 out of 10 names so as to not create confusion and possible medical disasters (for instance Celexa vs Celebrex).

Going through what must surely be a gauntlet of committee presentations and focus-grouping, how on earth do names like Xalkori and Xofigo see the light of day? The New York Times noted that "drug makers have favorite letters, and they run the gamut from X to Z." They quoted James Dettore of Brand Institute and explained;
"the letters X, Z, C and D, according to ...  "phonologics," subliminally indicate that a drug is powerful. "The harder the tonality of the name, the more efficacious the product in the mind of the physician and the end user," he said." 
 According to Slate, though, there might just be a computer algorithm behind all those Xs:
During tough financial times... many drug manufacturers skip human consultants and use computerized algorithmic name generators because they just want something that will get quick approval from the FDA and don’t care how ridiculous the name looks or sounds. //
My not-so-empirical approach to looking at drug names
the word-- how does it sound? how does it look?, associative images–– what does it sound like? what does it bring to mind?, appropriateness–— how well does the name work for what the drug does?

Ambien—pretty good at conveying a zoned-out calm, perhaps a little too techno
Zoloft—  its propping you up, get it?--holding you zoloft
Viagra— brilliant— it's vigorous, it's vital, it's Niagra Falls for chrissakes
Abilify— "this antidepressant has abilified me to be functional!"
Keppra— Strangely elegant and aloof, like the name of an ancient Egyptian deity. Not bad for an anti convulsant

The not-so-greats:
Vioxx— a vanquished Transformers villain— anti-inflammatory now off the market
Viibryd—looking like something you'd find at IKEA (thanks Andrew) this antidepressant doesn't even have an aspirational quality. plus the sound of it seems a bit too manic for a mood stabilizer
Coumadin—a blood thinner that sounds like a mid-level bureaucratic title of the Ottoman Empire; its generic name, warfarin, sounds like a strategic conflict board game
Effexor— this antidepressant reminds me of Gigantor, Space Age Robot
Aubagio— sounds to me like an Italian restaurant you'd find on Staten Island, odd association for drug to treat multiple sclerosis
Stalevo— treats Parkinsons disease but looks like it's a city in Serbia
Simponi Aria— is it part of an Italian opera? an obscure part of the brain (see Wernicke’s area)? No it treats rheumatoid arthritis. Perhaps it leaves you singing.

Fungizone— targets potentially fatal fungal infections; the name sounds appropriate in a blatant ham-fisted way, but I would not like to tell people I was on it.
Latuda—an antidepressant that seems more like a vulnerable area of the lower back; see  "phonologics"mentioned above—this drug doesn't sound man enough to make me happy
Lamictal— looks like a term for a pus-forming condition—not so good for a mood stabilizer/anti convulsant
Zortress—suppresses the immune system but sounds like a 1980s video game
Zingo— just completely wrong


Cloisters and Cardiff

Janet Cardiff's 40 part Motet closed this past weekend at the Cloisters. The installation was crowded but the piece still effective. The vocal work at its center is called Spem in Alium or “Hope in any Other” by Thomas Tallis, composed c 1570 for eight choirs of 5 voices. It was written as a progression of voices— sometimes singing in unison, sometimes in call and response. Cardiff's piece, as you may know, consisted of 40 freestanding speakers, each approximately six feet tall, set up around the Cloisters’ Fuentiduena chapel. Each speaker projects an individual voice, (the 40 were recorded separately) so that as you move around the space you experience each voice intimately. You are at the center as the music is projected back and forth across the space.

The Cloisters itself— a faux medieval abbey which houses much of the Metropolitan Museum's medieval collection—can strike one as characteristically American. If you think too long on its conception it can color your visit, or at least it did mine: rich diletante (George Grey Bernard) collects bits and pieces of medieval architectural details from around Europe and imports them here; a medieval pastiche financed by another rich American (John D Rockefeller) is constructed to house them; land both immediately surrounding the complex as well as across the river along the New Jersey palisades is bought up to preserve the view. A testament to American wealth and cultural boldness— buying up history wholesale and bringing it home. Thus the Fuentiduena chapel is actually an apse from one location, statuary from another, and a fresco from yet another, inserted into a "chapel" built in 1938. Throughout the building there are door frames from France housed with pillars from Spain flanking rooms made from Netherlandish accoutrements. Still, I dont really mean to criticize. Its a lovely haven in Manhattan and the gardens with researched, period-appropriate plantings are wonderful in and of themselves.


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