Getting Creative with Drugs: The Orenitram Name Review


Pharmaceutical naming is crazy hard. Just ask me: I’ve done it a few times, and it was enough to temporarily kill my enthusiasm for language. Between an insanely crowded space, the lengthy approval process, and FDA proscriptions and restrictions, it’s a wonder that any pronounceable, halfway euphonic drug names get approved. (Any meaning at all is an added bonus.) So when United Therapeutics recently got clearance for the name Orenitram for its new pill for pulmonary arterial hypertension, it was quite a coup.  (The approval of the drug itself was also quite a coup, according to industry experts, but that’s another story.)

The eminently pronounceable Orenitram is a something of an in-joke. The name was created by reversing the first eight letters of the name of the drug company’s CEO, Martine Rothblatt—Orenitram is Martine Ro spelled backwards.

Rothblatt (then known as Martin Rothblatt) founded United Therapeutics in 1996, and her appetite for creative reinvention and invention has continued unabated.  For instance, United Therapeutics’ last three annual reports were in the form of a comic book, a rock opera, and a children’s book, successively. (Now those sound like annual reports someone might actually read.) And not too long ago Rosenblatt commissioned a $125,000 highly sentient robot known as Bina48, one of the world’s first “cybernetic companions.” The bust-like android was modeled on the head and shoulders of Rothblatt’s wife, Bina Rothblatt, with an uncannily human face covered in a skin-like substance called “frubber.” (Face/flesh + rubber? What a great portmanteau name.)

But I digress. Besides being pronounceable, the drug name Orenitram has a strong, grounded tonality that evokes efficacy (as well as precision, thanks to the “t” consonant), and a dynamic, intuitive rhythm. Semantically, the name’s a blank slate—it has no morphemes that link it to function or benefits. But at least the name doesn’t have any associations that are at odds with the drug’s purpose.

So after whom will United Therapeutics name its next drug—its CMO? We see a new pharma naming trend in the works….

Grade: B

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