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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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December 5, 2011

Naming Your Company After Yourself

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Posted by Derek

This morning's post got me to thinking - are there any examples of modern biopharma companies that have taken the name of their founder and come out well? Back in Ye Olde Days, that was the default setting, of course, as it was for most companies. If you founded an industrial concern, you either named the thing after yourself, or called it something dead-on obvious like The American Rubber Gasket Company. There's no telling what people would have thought in 1882 if you'd decided to call your company some. . .made-up word instead.

But I'm trying to think of a successful last-name-of-founder drug company in recent years, and I'm drawing a blank. Am I missing something, or should we put this on the list of potential warning signs?

Comments (60) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Drug Industry History


1. alig on December 5, 2011 12:19 PM writes...

Much easier to have a clean field for trademarks if you use a made-up word

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2. Robert Bruce Thompson on December 5, 2011 12:26 PM writes...

Well, it was 1892, but George Eastman named Eastman Kodak both for himself and with a made-up word.

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3. weirdo on December 5, 2011 12:41 PM writes...

Dr. Reddy's?

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4. milkshake on December 5, 2011 12:43 PM writes...

Companies named after their founders: Janssen Pharmaceuticals is (was) a legend. In a more recent example, Draper laboratory next door from our company is apparently doing swell on defense-related research, they were even hiring medicinal chemists recently for some government contract research. And of course Strem chemicals. (Aldrich counts too - one of the founders named it after his girlfriend). And then there is the old Merck family and the Pfizer family.

The proliferation of letter X in biopharma names these days is cringeworthy!

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5. MTK on December 5, 2011 12:44 PM writes...

Derek, I don't think you're missing a thing here.

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6. weirdo on December 5, 2011 12:47 PM writes...

And in the "too early to tell" category, we have Dart Neurosciences.

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7. bbooooooya on December 5, 2011 12:51 PM writes...

Hollis Eden....No
PTIE (lead drug Remoxy...).....nope
Oclassen Pharma did OK (buyout by WPI)

Another warning sign, in my experience, is biotechs that change names. As far as I know, the only one to succeed is Gilead, which started life as Oligogen. I'm sure there must be others, but I have never actually come across.

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8. Industry Guy on December 5, 2011 12:55 PM writes...

uhhh...Boehringer qualify?

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9. Myma on December 5, 2011 12:58 PM writes...

after Dr Alejandro Zaffaroni the founder himself

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10. Oscar on December 5, 2011 1:03 PM writes...


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11. geezer on December 5, 2011 1:08 PM writes...

Kosan Biosciences (Chaitan Khosla & Dan Santi). Acquired by BMS in 2008. Not sure if that would be hailed as success or not.

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12. Dave on December 5, 2011 1:14 PM writes...

Search engines love made up words, particularly ones that are not phonetically near any real words, thus giving you a small leg up in marketing. Most names, on the other hand, have absolutely horrible search-ability.

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13. noname on December 5, 2011 1:18 PM writes...


Schlessinger + Ullrich + GEN.

They invented Sutent and got bought by Pharmacia

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14. MTK on December 5, 2011 1:21 PM writes...

I believe Boehringer was founded in the 1800's, so I wouldn't call that recent.

I think we're talking in the last decade or two.

It's certainly more en vogue these days to come up with a new word somewhat related to what you're doing than naming it for yourself.

It makes a lot of sense to given how people use search engines. If you're working in antivirals it's certainly going to be a lot easier for people to find you if your name is Virallus than if it's Williams Pharma, or whatever your name happens to be.

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15. newnickname on December 5, 2011 1:25 PM writes...

After reading the first Harry Potter books I wanted to name a biotech "Snape Pharmaceuticals" but he turns out to be a good guy at the end (I am told; I haven't read them all). I'll have to go with "Voldemort Pharmaceuticals" instead. It will attract lots of VC as it's something they can easily identify with.

Do acronyms count? PARS (a small Boston biotech, now defunct) was from the initials of its four founders' last names. Maybe that's why they are now RIP.

Not a drug co but used to make drugs, Waters (now a part of Millipore) was named after Waters.

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16. David Formerly Known as a Chemist on December 5, 2011 1:32 PM writes...


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17. CMCguy on December 5, 2011 1:34 PM writes...

I wouldn't think VC/Boards would allow this practice these days since when they decide to replace the CEO/CFO later its hard to disassociate the person from the company. I recall there were many small start-ups in the 80s and 90s that bore founder/family names but not sure who may have survived and/or changed names.

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18. The Devil wears Pfizer on December 5, 2011 1:46 PM writes...

Don't know if this counts but how about Glaxo...

Before Girolami, wasn't it just called Laxo...?

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19. tomb on December 5, 2011 1:51 PM writes...

Concert Pharmaceuticals. Roger Tong.

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20. pete on December 5, 2011 1:52 PM writes...

A little tangential - but here in the Bay Area a number of years back, a Japanese Biotech popped-up called "Y's Therapeutics".

At the time I pictured a Shogun founder. But in reality I believe the "Y" was intended to convey the shape of an antibody.

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21. Nick K on December 5, 2011 2:18 PM writes...

Rexahn Rharmaceuticals, after founder Carl Ahn.

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22. Jon on December 5, 2011 2:22 PM writes...

I see Ys and I think JRPG. Which also probably wasn't what they were going for, unless you're making a game about our plucky bench chemist going against upper management MBAs.

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23. armadillo on December 5, 2011 2:59 PM writes...

@21: RUH ROH!

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24. newnickname on December 5, 2011 3:03 PM writes...

Also not a Drug Co, but biotech related: Some of you in the Boston area might use the services of a local scientific glassblower named "Xxxxs Glass". The owner is not Xxxxs but Yyyy. I asked him why it isn't called "Yyyys Glass" and he told me that his lawyer told him NOT to name a company after himself to avoid all kinds of possible headaches down the road. There is another Boston area scientific glassblower that IS named after the founder; they make quartz harmonicas, too.

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25. Adam Feuerstein on December 5, 2011 6:03 PM writes...

Derek -- I have always viewed any modern bio-pharma company named after a founder as a very large red flag (see: Al Mann -- Mannkind)

A corollary to this rule: Be wary of anyone who names a drug after himself. (Rubitecan -- Joseph Rubinfeld, Supergen)

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26. milkshake on December 5, 2011 6:15 PM writes...

Who cares about some lousy company or drug name - one day I shall name a reaction after myself...

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27. Anonymous on December 5, 2011 6:26 PM writes...

Tanox, bought by Genentech...the founder (Tan) and her Chinese astrology sign (Ox)

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28. Student on December 5, 2011 6:34 PM writes...

If you're naming after yourself, you are trying to shape everyone's vision of you (legacy).
If you name it after something else you are trying to project your vision.

In an industry where creativity and ingenuity must trump numbers (company size, profits, etc.) for success, I think we can see why legacy companies don't stick around long. You might be able to push widget making but you can't with drugs.

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29. CMCguy on December 5, 2011 6:38 PM writes...

#25 Adam Feuerstein I am curious as to why you consider this "a very large red flag". I can't say I myself am favor of naming after an individual mainly because success will depend on much more than a single person. At the same time this makes more sense than many of the made up "catchy sounding pseudo related to what we do" tags that get thrown out today. Historically the Abbott's, Lilly's, Merck's, Welcome's, etc. all had responsible people who took extra care to have meaning reputation associated with the name whereas now does not always appear to be a passing consideration.

Milkshake I think that getting Name Reaction has been the dream of most Synthetic Chemists however with modern search tools not sure has same value this one held.

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30. Anonymous on December 5, 2011 8:11 PM writes...

Cook Pharmica in Bloomington founded 2004.

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31. french chem on December 5, 2011 8:37 PM writes...

Remember two french compagnies = Pierre Fabre and Servier !

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32. Anonymous on December 5, 2011 8:40 PM writes...

How about Roche. Oh, I forgot they don't count because they layoff talent and retain a lot of unknown with limited to no track record!! If the Hoffmann's only knew what was going on over in Nutley NJ........

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33. Anonymous on December 5, 2011 9:39 PM writes...

Chiesi from Italy

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34. Sisyphus on December 5, 2011 11:01 PM writes...

Michael Scott Paper Company.

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35. MolecularConductor on December 5, 2011 11:43 PM writes...


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36. Anonymous BMS Researcher on December 5, 2011 11:46 PM writes...

As Derek notes, in olden times it was common for company founders to name companies after themselves. In the 19th century two guys named Bristol and Myers started a partnership, and a guy named Squibb started his own eponymous pharma company. In the 20th century, B-M merged with Squibb to form BMS.

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37. Indy on December 5, 2011 11:50 PM writes...

Alexza: Another company founded by Dr Alejandro Zaffaroni

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38. Prabhdeep on December 6, 2011 12:08 AM writes...

Ranbaxy! Named after the founders - Ranbir & Gurbax

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39. Vince on December 6, 2011 12:14 AM writes...

I was working for Logicon when we were bought by Northrop Grumman. In a fit of imagination, they renamed us Business Unit #5. We promptly requested business cards with Borg designations.

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40. David on December 6, 2011 1:42 AM writes...

A very informative and often very funny blog - congratulations, Alex

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41. PharmaFTE on December 6, 2011 2:52 AM writes...

Glenmark, named after the founder's two sons

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42. A Nonny Mouse on December 6, 2011 2:53 AM writes...

How about Glenmark named and Mr Glenn and Mr Mark, 2 brothers who have since had a falling out. "Mr Mark", the younger brother has since fallen out with his sibling and set up another "Glenmark".

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43. PharmaFTE on December 6, 2011 2:55 AM writes...

@ A Nonny Mouse: First! :-)

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44. A Nonny Mouse on December 6, 2011 4:13 AM writes...

Met "Mr Mark" in India and saw the paracetamol plant in Goa which was to supply paracetamol tablets to the UK supermarkets- interestingly, I had a pack of paracetamol in my bag which I had brought from the UK all the way back to where it had been produced!

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45. schinderhannes on December 6, 2011 6:07 AM writes...

@26 Yo milkshake, please name it "milkshake rearrangement" and not after your real name, otherwise we´d never find out.
Reading your blog you are on my shortlist for people that might actually achieve their goal!
Good luck!

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46. Jerry on December 6, 2011 6:31 AM writes...

Certainly not recent, and it's been a few years since they've been involved in pharmaceuticals, but:

E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company

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47. Anonymous on December 6, 2011 6:48 AM writes...

Johnson and Johnson (Robert, Jim and Ed Johnson)
Janssen pharmaceuticals (Dr. Paul Janssen)
Eli Lilly (Mr. Eli Lilly)
Bristol Myers Squibb (William Bristol, John Myers and Ed Squibb)
Abbott Labs (Aallace Abbott)
Procter and Gamble (William Procter & James Gamble)

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48. RB Woodweird on December 6, 2011 7:05 AM writes...

When can we look forward to the founding of Lowe Tech?

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49. A Nonny Mouse on December 6, 2011 7:08 AM writes...


Forgot my old employers

Boroughs Wellcome

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50. Larry on December 6, 2011 8:27 AM writes...

Wilson Greatbatch (now known as Greatbatch on the stock exchange). Not a biotech but makers of the implantable pacemaker and batteries.

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51. milkshake on December 6, 2011 10:34 AM writes...

@48: My friend works for a firm named Dames and Moore. Every times he hears the name of his employer an image of escort service springs up.

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52. Junius Ponds on December 6, 2011 11:34 AM writes...

Miltenyi Biotec was founded in 1989 and named for one of its founders. It may not be prominent enough for you since it only has a German-language Wikipedia page, but it's one of the most essential suppliers for immunologists.

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53. Junius Ponds on December 6, 2011 11:38 AM writes...

Specifically on drug companies ... the "Coulter" half of Beckman Coulter was founded a mere 53 years ago, and they claim to be some sort of drug company.

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54. NJBiologist on December 6, 2011 12:28 PM writes...

@48 RB Woodweird--After a fashion, it's already happened. In the cartoon "Get Fuzzy", the main character graduated from Lowe Tech. You can find their t-shirts on the internet, so it must be a real school.

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55. Anonymous on December 6, 2011 3:02 PM writes...

And a compound of note: Rimonabant, named after inventors Rimona and Barth.

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56. anon on December 7, 2011 2:32 AM writes...

Milkshake - spot on about the reaction

NJ Biologist - I got get me one

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57. anon2 on December 7, 2011 4:39 AM writes...

Axel Ullrich is actually famous for that:

Sugen, see #13

Axxima was his second venture (I think it went bankrupt somewhen in the mid-2000s during the german biotech drought and parts were acquired by GPC, now Agennix) and

U3, the third one, was acquired by Daiichi in 2008 and

Kinaxo, now part of Evotech

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58. DSM on December 8, 2011 9:01 AM writes...

Piramal has been quite successful

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59. Secondaire on December 9, 2011 2:13 PM writes...

This reminds me of a conversation I had with one of my labmates in grad school.

Me: Do you have [some obscure reagent here]?
Him: No, but I do know someone who does.
Me: Who is it?
Him: Guy named Aldrich. First name, Sigma.

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60. Anonymous on December 26, 2011 4:55 PM writes...

Almac Discovery - named after Almac's inspirational founder Sir Allen McClay and based near Belfast in Northern Ireland.

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