Under criticism that its ads are misleading, Pfizer said Monday that it would cancel a long-running advertising campaign using the artificial heart pioneer 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.
the campaign had come under scrutiny from a Congressional committee
that is examining consumer drug advertising and has asked whether the
ads misrepresented Dr. Jarvik and his credentials. Although he has a
medical degree, Dr. Jarvik is not a cardiologist and is not licensed to
One television ad depicted Dr. 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.
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.”
company spokeswoman, Vanessa Aristide, said that Pfizer was working
with its advertising agency, the Kaplan Thaler Group, to develop a new
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.
House Energy and Commerce Committee has been looking into television
ads featuring Dr. Jarvik. The committee disclosed that Pfizer had
agreed to pay Dr. Jarvik at least $1.35 million under a two-year
contract that expires next month. John D. Dingell,
the Michigan Democrat who is chairman of that committee, raised
questions about Dr. Jarvik’s credentials to recommend Lipitor.
Dr. 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, another Michigan Democrat who leads an
investigations subcommittee, applauded Pfizer’s decision to withdraw
the Lipitor ads.
“I commend Pfizer for doing the right thing
and pulling the Lipitor ads featuring Dr. Jarvik,” Mr. 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. Mr. Stupak
said the committee planned to meet with Dr. Jarvik and collect all of
the documents it had requested.
The committee recently asked 10
advertising agencies that worked on the Dr. Jarvik campaign to submit
documents about the use of body doubles.
The committee has
also contacted at least one former colleague of Dr. Jarvik’s who
contended that he was not the actual inventor of the artificial heart,
as stated in the ads.
In a letter to Pfizer in August 2006, three former colleagues of Dr. Jarvik’s at the University of Utah
complained that the ads erroneously identified Dr. Jarvik as “inventor
of the artificial heart.” That distinction, they said, should go to Dr.
Jarvik’s mentor, Dr. Willem J. Kolff, and his associate, Dr. Tetsuzo
Pfizer subsequently changed its ads to identify Dr.
Jarvik as the inventor of the “Jarvik artificial heart,” but Dr.
Jarvik’s former colleagues, members of a large team that worked on the
heart, were not entirely satisfied, according to Dr. Donald B. Olsen, a
veterinarian who worked on the heart and is president of the Utah
Artificial Heart Institute. Dr. Olsen said he had recently been
contacted by the committee.
A long-simmering dispute over
assigning credit for the artificial heart boiled over again during a
conference last December at the University of Utah. Dr. Jarvik did not
attend the conference, which marked the 25th anniversary of the heart’s
experimental use to extend the life of Barney Clark, a dentist in
During the meeting, another former Utah colleague of
Dr. Jarvik’s, Dr. Clifford S. Kwan-Gett, stated that the Jarvik series
of hearts were simply different versions of prototypes that Dr.
Kwan-Gett had made more than a year earlier.
company, Jarvik Heart, subsequently posted a history of the artificial
heart’s development on its Web site, giving his own account of the
heart’s development. That posting said Dr. Jarvik’s design overcame two
problems of the heart developed by Dr. Kwan-Gett.
based in Manhattan, has been working for the last two decades on a
continuous-flow pump that can be inserted directly into a patient’s
damaged heart to bolster its function.
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