Abbott's 'AbbVie' Name For Drug Business Draws Mixed Reaction

Date : 03/21/2012 @ 3:14PM
Source : Dow Jones News
Stock : Abbott Laboratories (ABT)
Quote : 52.51  1.08 (2.10%) @ 8:00PM

Abbott's 'AbbVie' Name For Drug Business Draws Mixed Reaction

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Abbott Laboratories (ABT) on Wednesday unveiled the name of its planned pharmaceutical company spinoff, "AbbVie," which Abbott says evokes its heritage and the Latin word for "life."

The new name generated mixed reactions from various quarters, ranging from an industry consultant who likes its link to Abbott to a Latin scholar who says Abbott's understanding of the classical language may be slightly off-base.

The new name, pronounced "Abb-vee," is one milestone in Abbott's plan to split its proprietary pharmaceutical business into a publicly traded company, a move the company announced last year. The Abbott Labs name will stay with the diversified medical products businesses, which include coronary stent devices and baby formula products.

The Abbott Park, Ill., company is pursuing the splitup to capitalize on an expected higher market valuation for its medical-products business, as the pharmaceutical unit faces slower growth prospects in the years ahead.

The pharmaceutical business that will become AbbVie remains heavily dependent upon its top-selling drug, the arthritis and inflammatory-disease treatment Humira, which is expected to face new competition in coming years. This reliance led one industry watcher to joke that Abbott should have named the spinoff "HumVie."

Abbott said Wednesday that it's on track to complete the separation of AbbVie by the end of 2012. A logo and additional identity elements will be unveiled later in the year, said Abbott spokeswoman Kelly Morrison. No stock symbol has been unveiled yet.

Abbott said AbbVie is derived from a combination of Abbott and "vie," which Abbott said is a reference to the Latin root "vi," meaning life.

"The beginning of the name connects the new company to Abbott and its heritage of pioneering science," Richard Gonzalez, an Abbott executive who will become chairman and chief executive of AbbVie, said in a press release. "The 'vie' calls attention to the vital work the company will continue to advance to improve the lives of people around the world."

Abbott Labs itself was named after Wallace Abbott, a doctor and pharmacy operator who founded the company more than 120 years ago.

Abbott worked with an outside consultant to come up with the new name. Morrison declined to identify the firm or say how much Abbott spent on the naming project.

Reaction to the new name was mixed. Michael Luby, head of pharmaceutical consulting firm BioPharma Alliance, said Abbott was smart to retain a link to its own identity, rather than select a completely new name that would disregard its heritage.

"To me, the new branding says the organization will strike out on its own but with an appreciation for the culture and values that have made Abbott so successful," Luby said.

But Angela Riley, strategy director at brand consultant Wolff Olins, said she thinks "AbbVie" lacks an element suggesting that Abbott is on the cutting edge of drug research.

"What they've come up with speaks well to heritage, speaks well to life, but I don't think positions them as a future-facing, pioneering biotech organization," said Riley, who wasn't involved in the name choice.

As for the Latin, one scholar was a bit puzzled. Julia Nelson Hawkins, an assistant professor in the Greek and Latin department of Ohio State University, said the Latin root for "life" would be either "vit" or "viv." These are roots of the words "vita" and "vivus," or "life" and "alive."

Nelson Hawkins said "vi" by itself actually means "by force" or "by violence"--probably not the connotation Abbott is going for.

"I would have never known that AbbVie was trying to incorporate a Latin word, especially not 'life,'" she said.

However, she noted that "vie" means "life" in French, a language that evolved from Latin.

Morrison said the company intended the "Vie" part of the new name as a reference to the Latin "vit," for "life," as well as the French "vie."

If AbbVie sticks with the Latin motif, perhaps it will consider as its slogan a notable Latin translation of a quote attributed to the Greek father of medicine, Hippocrates: "Ars longa; vita brevis," which could be roughly translated in English as "The art [of medicine] is long; life is short."

-By Peter Loftus, Dow Jones Newswires; +1-215-982-5581;

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