The hidden science behind naming Ozempic and Jardiance

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News Team

The catchy jingles for popular drugs are hard to forget. The singer-songwriter David Paton, who was in the Bay City Rollers, co-wrote “Magic” — the 1975 hit for his band Pilot that he reworked and sang for the trendy weight-loss drug’s TV commercials. The jingles are perfect for teaching people the branded names of drugs. They are super upbeat, even when they talk about diseases and terrible side effects.

It can cost billions of dollars to develop a pharmaceutical, so promoting it is essential. The process often begins with a list of some 1,000 names. The names typically have five to nine letters and two to four syllables. The exact letters are also important. For example, if there is an oral drug instead of an injectable, the name might sound liquidy or have an O in it. If a product is expected to have an extra level of efficacy, an X might be put in the name.

Research has shown consumers like taking drugs with the letter Z, which may have played a role in the naming of Ozempic and Zepbound. According to the Canadian Medical Journal, the letters X, Y and Z all impart a “high tech, sciency” feeling to drugs such as the sleeping medication Xanax. The letters Z and X make a name stand out and seem unique.

Sometimes the same drug has multiple names, depending on its usage. For instance, most of today’s popular weight-loss injectables started out as drugs for Type 2 diabetes. Zepbound, for instance, has the same formulation as the diabetes drug Mounjaro and both are produced by Eli Lilly. While the company that came up with the Zepbound name is so tightlipped that its reps won’t even acknowledge having done the job, the big pharma executive told The Post: “Zepbound just sounds to me like an inspired pickup of the generic name, Tirzepatide.”

The name of a drug can be crucial in its success. People have hesitancy about taking drugs. If they don’t have diabetes, they wonder why they are taking a diabetes drug to lose weight. The weight-loss drug has to be called something different, even though it is very close to being the same thing. The name Wegovy is playful and memorable and obviously works. Amy Schumer, Chelsea Handler and Sharon Osbourne have all admitted to using the diabetic version for weight loss, while Elon Musk attributed a 20-pound weight loss to Wegovy and fasting.

Members of a naming team often “put together a brand personality,” said the ad veteran. “They might ask, ‘If the drug is a car, would it be a Ferrari or a Mazda?’ Then they work through finding a name within those parameters [and others].” In the case of Latisse, which is used for eyelash growth and was promoted by Claire Danes, it had to sound sexier than Lumigan — the glaucoma drug it came from after it was discovered that eyelash growth was a side effect of Lumigan.

The strategy must have worked. Between 2009 and 2018, Latisse generated more than $70 million in sales per year. “Research has shown that if you ask for a specific medicine, sometimes the doctor wants to get you out of the office and will just prescribe what you ask for,” the ad veteran said. “At the end of the day, they give you what you want unless they have a strong reason not to.

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