Under criticism that its ads are misleading, Pfizer said Monday it would cancel a long-running advertising campaign using the artificial heart pioneer Dr. Robert Jarvik as a spokesman for its cholesterol drug Lipitor.
Pfizer has spent more than $258 million advertising Lipitor since January 2006, most of it on the Jarvik campaign, as the company sought to protect Lipitor, the world’s best-selling drug, from competition by cheaper generics.
But the campaign had come under scrutiny from a congressional committee that is examining consumer drug advertising and has asked whether the ads misrepresented Jarvik and his credentials. Although he has a medical degree, Jarvik is not a cardiologist and is not licensed to practice medicine.
One television ad depicted Jarvik as an accomplished rower gliding across a mountain lake, but the ad used a body double for the doctor, who apparently does not row.
“The way in which we presented Dr. Jarvik in these ads has, unfortunately, led to misimpressions and distractions from our primary goal of encouraging patient and physician dialogue on the leading cause of death in the world — cardiovascular disease,” Pfizer’s president of worldwide pharmaceutical operations, Ian Read, said in a statement. “We regret this. Going forward, we commit to ensuring there is greater clarity in our advertising regarding the presentation of spokespeople.”
A company spokeswoman, Vanessa Aristide, said Pfizer was working with its advertising agency, the Kaplan Thaler Group, to develop a new campaign.
Lipitor, with sales of $12.7 billion last year, is protected by patent until 2010. Some patients have, nevertheless, begun switching to a generic version of a competing cholesterol drug, Zocor.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee has been looking into television ads featuring Jarvik. The committee disclosed that Pfizer agreed to pay Jarvik at least $1.35 million under a two-year contract that expired next month. Rep. John D. Dingell, D-Mich., who is chairman of that committee, raised questions about Jarvik’s credentials to recommend Lipitor.
Jarvik, who has recently declined to discuss the Lipitor campaign, could not be reached for comment Monday.
The committee’s investigation has rekindled a debate over the so-called direct-to-consumer advertising of pharmaceuticals, a $4.8 billion business.
Dingell and Bart Stupak, D-Mich., who heads an investigations subcommittee, applauded Pfizer’s decision to pull the Lipitor ads.
“I commend Pfizer for doing the right thing and pulling the Lipitor ads featuring Dr. Jarvik,” Stupak said in a statement. “When consumers see and hear a doctor endorsing medication, they expect the doctor is a credible individual with requisite knowledge of the drug.”
While endorsing Pfizer’s decision, the committee showed no sign of shutting down its investigation. Stupak said the committee planned to meet with Jarvik and collect all of the documents it had requested.