Medicine: Generic names vs Brand names

Here are some examples of trademarked drug names: Tylenol, Bufferin, Ex-lax. I figure that these names were invented by the marketing people of whoever originally made them, in order to have a catchy name that would induce people to buy the product.

Here are some names of various chemicals: Hydrogen peroxide, sodium citrate, nitrous oxide, acetylsalicylic acid. These names don’t seem to have been invented at all. Chemists derived them from the molecular structure of the stuff. It’s more of a description than a name, so no one can trademark them, any more than they can trademark the words “table” or “meat”.

Now here’s my question:

What about ibuprofen acetaminophen, and others? They are used by everyone, but they seem to have been invented. Anyone know what I mean?

It is as if someone invented a new sweetener, and they said, “Hmmm… let’s give this thing two names. To industry people, everyone can call it ‘aspartame’. But let’s get ourselves a whole bunch of money by selling it to consumers as … [insert drum roll here] … ‘NutraSweet’!!!”

Any ideas?

The names serve different purposes. Asparteme tells you what the substance is, NutraSweet tells you who sold it to you. The people selling it to you want the public to demand NutraSweet as a sweeten, not asparteme. The people who sell you the product are not always the people who make it. Sacchrin was once made by a paint company and still sold to you as a sweetener.

That would make sense to me only if the word “aspartame” had existed prior to it being invented, which is impossible. If they want to tell people “what the substance is”, they should have used some difficult-to-pronounce chemical name, or just the generic words “artificial sweetener”.
My question again is, why did the inventors go to the effort of giving it TWO names? They could have just called it “NutraSweet”, and let the competition come up with their own name.

If you are looking at a simple inorganic compound like NaCl, or sodium chloride, or table salt, calling it by the official IUPAC- endorsed name isn’t a big deal. If you are looking at some much more complicated organic compound, then it is often convienient to call something by a common name, rather than by a chemical formula. This is especially true when the compound being referred to is complicated enough that a structural formula is needed, not just a molecular formula. (By molecular formula I mean something like C6H6. A structural formula would show that this compound has the six carbons in a hexagon, with alternating single and double bonds, and one hydrogen attached to each. Chemists and other people who use this compound will no doubt recognize that I’m describing benzene, and realize there are other ways to draw it as well. Benzene is a common name.)
If you come up with a new substance, and wish to patent it, you probably will want to give it a relatively simple name, so you don’t have to call it Compound 542367 or describe the complete structure everytime you want to refer to it.
Then, the marketing people get their hands on in and say, “Hmm, I bet we could get a lot more money from it by calling it “Nutra-Sweet””. In other words, I think the “inventors” probably only invented one name, the marketers invented the second. And, while giving complicated compounds proper scientific names would do a better job of telling another scientist what the compound “really is”, those names aren’t always convenient.

Chemical names often have nothing to do with what the stuff can do. Nutrasweet sounds like something you can sweeten with. So they change it.

Also, what name it gets plus what happens to it often depends on who finds it first, the people or a company. If a comp finds it first, they are rich, if the people find it first [like say, pot?] then its going to be illegal.

Most drugs have three names:

  1. Chemical name:
    This name is used by Chemical Abstracts, who also assign registry numbers to ALL chemicals(yes, even water)

  2. generic name: Diazepam
    A generic name is assigned to all FDA approved drugs.When the patent runs out, the generic brands will make it under this name, or a new trade name.In a pill containing several drugs, this tells you what’s in it.

  3. Trade name/brand name:Valium, Solis. Tensium(all are diazepam).The inventor has established a market under a trade name, and will keep that name after the patent runs out(18-20 years)

Nobody likes the generic names, but they are short, unique names.

The reason drugs are assigned generic names is pretty simple, and was alluded to in the previous post. By law you cannot trademark a common name, you can only trademark a brand name. A drug company must supply a common name when it gets its drug approved, otherwise when the patent ran out, competitors could sell the drug under the brand name-- I’m pretty sure this happened with aspirin, and the drug companies have learned their lesson.
Hence Frisbee flying discs-- Kleenex facial tissues-- Xerox photocopiers etc… If Whammo just called a Frisbee a Frisbee-- any competitor could call their product frisbee as well – Now people who want to compete have to sell their product as Brand X flying disc.
Another advantage to having a generic name for a drug is that if you find a new use for it you can sell it under a different name-- Since doctors go by generic names they will realize its the same drug, but consumers may not. Hence people taking Zyban to quit smoking can avoid the stigma of taking Wellbutrin which is an antidepressent-- Yet a doctor knows its the same thing-- so she won’t prescribe it twice to the same person.

Actually, my guess is that having a short or “trivial name” for a medicinal compound is to the pharmaceutical company’s benefit. One of Judge Learned Hand’s reasons for cancelling the trademark on the word aspirin was because he found that aspirin had become the generic trivial name, rather than the jawbreaking acetylsalicylic acid. So if you have a short name like “diazepam” or “acetaminophen”, you may stave off the competition.

Incidentally, “aspirin” is derived from the words “a”(cetyl) and “spirin”, which is from the German “spiraeic”, which means “salicylic”: both words refer to the willow tree, whose bark was formerly chewed as a pain remedy because it contained a related compound.

Also incidentally, we in my house don’t refer to acetaminophen either by its own name or as “tylenol”; we call it “headache medicine” :slight_smile:

Another factor that may be relevant: choosing what to tell your customers your product’s name is has become a complicated process, and not all drugs get to that stage. It makes sense to give drugs technical names in the testing stages, and not bother coming up with a catchy name until it goes to market.

" ‘Ideas on Earth were badges of friendship or enmity. Their content did not matter.’ " -Kurt Vonnegut, * Breakfast of Champions *

Re: “Incidentally, “aspirin” is derived from the words “a”(cetyl) and “spirin”, which is from the German “spiraeic”, which means “salicylic”: both words refer to the willow tree, whose bark was formerly chewed as a pain remedy because it contained a related compound.”

And “aspirin” was originally a trademark of the Bayer company, which passed into the public domain by common usage.

Christ, what an imagination I’ve got…

Another factor in name generation is that most drug companies will try to give similar drugs similar generic names:

For example, all drugs that end in “cillin” for their generic name have similar structures, and tend to cause allergic reactions in people who have reacted to other “cillins”.

A newer example is a new group of drugs for treating diabetes:

Rezulin (troglitazone) 1996
Avandia (rosiglitazone) 1999
Actos (pioglitazone) 1999

All have a common mechanism of action; all have comparable effectiveness in lowering blood sugar; side effects vary somewhat.

But a frazzled doc trying to keep up with a typical dozen or 2 important new drugs every year (among the hundred or so total new drugs that hit the market) appreciates being able to recognize some kind of logic/internal consistency in the naming process.

Sue from El Paso

But I like to say ‘acetylsalicylic acid’. To say it is almost to taste it. Say it a few times and you may not need it.

What irks me is when a company will radically change the ingredients of one of its products and then use the same old tradename that had become associated with the prior ingredients. I can’t think of a good example, but I believe there are a number of household cleaning products whose manufacturers have done this. I guess Energine is one. It’s now all naphtha and won’t clean up much of anything, but I suppose it meets some governmental safety requirements.