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Nomenclature – Is There A Remedy?

Have you taken your morning vildagliptin yet? I’ve taken mine. It inhibits the inactivation of GLP-1 and GIP, thus allowing those to enable the secretion of insulin in the beta cells and suppress glucagon release by the alpha cells of the islets of Langerhans in the pancreas.

[To find out what GLP-1, GIP, beta cells, glucagon, alpha cells and islets of Langerhans are, please consult the extensive glossary at the end of this piece.]

But vildagliptin is a fine prompt for my main question this week: why do pharmaceuticals have such preposterous names? Why couldn’t vildagliptin be called Vincent, for example? Or Violet?

Sometimes, I also have to apply efudix to affected areas but that’s not something I would announce in polite company.

Cisplatin, a chemotherapy cancer drug, has the word splat bang in the middle of it; that surely doesn’t inspire confidence.

Phensuximide, an anti-seizure drug, is not used so much anymore. Could it be because it says sux in the middle? Remove the offending letters and you certainly have a more pleasing and manageable name.

And if your GP offered you domperidone, might you think you had been offered Dom Pérignon? Time to bring out the champagne flutes? Sadly, no.

Moxifloxacin has one more letter x than the human ear might find appealing. But it has competition from phexxi, hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia and hexahydroxycyclohexane [see glossary].

Provenge is not up there with the really difficult-to-pronounce ones but it’s certainly on the not-very-tasteful list. It’s a prostate cancer-fighting drug but it sounds rather too like revenge of the prostate.

And for some reason a bone-modifying agent to treat cancer was called xgeva.

You might find it hard to get your mouth around the name xylometazoline but that’s okay because it actually goes up your nose. Yes, it’s an active ingredient in a number of decongestant nasal sprays. Don’t try saying it while the nozzle is up your nose.

In 2016 in the United States, Pharmacy Times published an article in which were listed 12 “names that may require some practice.” Among them were idarucizumab, ixabepilone and eszopiclone [see glossary]. It also mentioned the possibility of names getting muddled, which doesn’t bear thinking about.

One of the more interesting things I found in my search through the world of pharmaceuticals was a request from a pharmacy student. “I’m designing a t-shirt for our college,” he posted, “and want to know the names of some medications which are unusually long or hard to pronounce.”

The answers came: phenazopyridine, ondansetron, hydrochloroquinone, azathioprine, polyethylene glycol [PEG], medroxyprogesterone, methylprednisolone [see glossary]. It was followed by a smiley face and the comment, “This is fun!”

That will sure make a handsome t-shirt!

Perhaps another entrepreneur should come up first with one covered with the names of the ailments or maladies that can be cured by the pharmaceutical products.

It could feature the phrase urinary tract infection. Or nausea and vomiting, malaria, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, constipation, amenorrhea and gland disorders. Now that would be very tasteful indeed!

The two t-shirts could be worn as his and hers though there might be arguments over who gets the illnesses and who the medications.

And I can’t close without a comment on the wasteful packaging of so many pharmaceuticals with their almost impenetrable plastic bubble packs and seal foils. How about a bigger nod towards sustainability, towards healing the planet?

And so, at last, we come to my glossary but, alas, I find that, thanks to some very long-winded pharmaceutical names, I have run out of my allocated space and have to wind things up immediately.

I accept that might be a bitter pill to swallow so I’m very sorry.

Wyn Drabble is a teacher of English, a writer, musician and public speaker.

Roger Parker
Roger Parker
Roger Parker is the Times-Age news director. In the Venn-diagram of his two great loves, news and sport, sports news is the sweet spot.

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