Q Who?: Qnexa Product Name Review


Much like death and taxes, diet drugs will always be with us, from the low-tech caffeine overdose of Dexatrim to the now-banned prescription pill Meridia. We all want to lose weight, and lose it now, with as little effort as possible. After all, if losing weight was as easy as eating less and exercising more, everyone would be doing it, wouldn’t they?

Into the mix comes Qnexa, being developed by the California pharmaceutical company Vivus. Vivus has been seeking approval of Qnexa since 2009, and just this week (mid-April, 2012) the FDA has pushed back its decision on whether to approve the low-dose combination of phentermine and topiramate until July 17.

The combination of drugs is interesting and no doubt effective; Topamax (topiramate), an anti-seizure drug, is powerful stuff, having been reported to cause not only weight loss (perhaps because it makes food taste bad) but memory loss and hair loss too. Phentermine, the “phen” in Fen-phen, is a stimulant not unlike amphetamines. Imagine – a drug that amps you up but makes you forget all the crazy stuff you just did! And you lose weight too!

But all that fear-mongering aside, let’s get to the real question: What is UP with the name? I’ve been thinking about it all afternoon and I can’t make heads or tails of it. What does the Q stand for? Is it meant to be some kind of play on “connect” or “next” or “nexus”? Why doesn’t it relate to the ingredient names? And how the heck does Qnexa mean anything about weight loss?

The trend in pharmaceuticals over the past 10 years has been for more consumer-friendly names, names that relate to the benefit of the product: Lunesta for sleep aids, Zostavax for herpes zoster vaccine, Boniva for osteoporosis. But finding good, relevant, and available names is hard, and sometimes you just have to go for the “available” and forget about good and relevant. Perhaps that what happened with Qnexa. Q is an unusual letter, especially when squished up against another consonant (violating the usual rule of “q followed by u” in English). It is pronounceable and fairly distinctive looking. But there’s going to be a lot of marketing involved to get people to associate it with its intended use.

And maybe the name was created as a really, really geeky Star Trek joke about the Q Continuum.

Overall grade: C

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