August 25, 2021

How Pfizer-BioNTech named 'Comirnaty' (and 4 names that didn't make the cut)

Daily Briefing

    With full approval from FDA, Pfizer-BioNTech unveiled a new brand name for its vaccine: Comirnaty. Here's how the name was created.

    Your top resources on the Covid-19 vaccines

    What's in a drug name?

    According to STAT News, while many drug names may sound like they were "created by over-caffeinated Scrabble players," they are usually the result of rigorous work from creative name development professionals and designed to meet FDA approval.

    When coming up with a name for a drug, the goal is to create a name that will communicate the core aspects of its benefits or a specific marketing message. For example, the name of an inhaled asthma drug may use aeronautical terms or sound symbolism to evoke the idea of air.

    Thousands of names may be generated in the process before they are narrowed down to a few finalists, STAT News writes. These remaining names are then submitted to the FDA for final approval.

    At FDA, the Division of Medication Error Prevention and Analysis will review the names, a process that can take up to six months, according to STAT News. During that time, names may be rejected for being too similar to an existing drug or for suggesting the drug's dosing, effectiveness, or superiority. Ultimately, any drug names submitted for consideration can be approved only after "an exhaustive battery of tests," STAT News reports.

    The meaning of 'Comirnaty'

    According to NPR, the process of finding a suitable name for Pfizer-BioNTech's Covid-19 vaccine began early in its development. In fact, BioNTech partnered with Brand Institute, the agency that developed the name, in April 2020, with Pfizer joining later.

    Scott Piergrossi, president of operations and communications at Brand Institute, said the goal when naming a drug is to "overlap ideas and layer meaning into a name."

    In developing the name for their drug, Pfizer and BioNTech wanted to emphasize immunization against Covid-19 and the vaccine's central mRNA technology, NPR reports. In addition, they wanted the name to encompass the concepts of community and immunity.

    Ultimately, the branding team thought the name Comirnaty (pronounced "koe-mir-na-tee"), which has been in use since December, combines all these ideas into one word. Specifically, according to Fortune, "Co" is from Covid-19, "Mirna" represents mRNA, and "-ty" comes from both community and immunity.

    In a press release from last year, Pfizer and BioNTech said, "Comirnaty ... represents a combination of the terms Covid-19, mRNA, community, and immunity, to highlight the first authorization of a messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine, as well as the joint global efforts that made this achievement possible with unprecedented rigor and efficiency—and with safety at the forefront—during this global pandemic."

    (What names didn't make the cut? According to NPR, other names considered included Covuity, RnaxCovi, Kovimerna, and RNXtract.)

    In addition to the brand name, Pfizer-BioNTech's vaccine has a generic name: tozinameran. Unlike the brand name, the generic name was developed based on World Health Organization requirements. According to Fortune, "tozina-" is a required prefix, while "meran" is a suffix used for all mRNA vaccines.

    'Keepz-u-out-of-the-hospital'

    While most industry stakeholders largely embraced the announcement, given the key role of vaccines in combatting the pandemic, many also poked fun at the complex name, NPR reports.

    For instance, Ben Wakana, a member of the White House's COVID-19 Response Team, joked on Twitter, "The correct pronunciation of Comirnaty is: "keepz-u-out-of-the-hospital-saves-UR-life-protects-your-community."

    Separately, Alexander Gaffney, executive director of Politico's AgencyIQ, noted that the name could be more challenging to pronounce. In a tweet, he highlighted a handful other, more difficult drug names that recently got approved, including Bylvay, Truseltiq, Zynlonta, Qelbree.

    What will the Moderna vaccine's name be?

    Moderna's Covid-19 vaccine is awaiting full approval from the FDA and currently does not have a brand name in the United States.

    However, the European Medicines Agency approved the name Spikevax for Moderna's vaccine last month, and FDA will likely rule on the name as it considers full approval, according to Fortune. (Pile, STAT News, 2/8/17; Morris, Fortune, 8/23; Diaz, NPR, 8/24)

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