Pfizer. Pfake! Pfooey!
Pfizer to End Lipitor Campaign by Jarvik
By STEPHANIE SAUL
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 Dr. Jarvik and his credentials. Although he has a medical degree, Dr. Jarvik is not a cardiologist and is not licensed to practice medicine.
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.
“The way in which we presented Dr. Jarvik in these ads has, unfortunately, led to mis-impressions 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 Dr. Jarvik. The committee disclosed that Pfizer agreed to pay Dr. Jarvik at least $1.35 million under a two-year contract that expired 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. Mr. Dingell and Bart Stupak, another Michigan Democrat 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,” 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 had 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 contends 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 Akutsu.
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 was recently 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 Dr. Barney Clark, a Seattle dentist.
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.
Dr. Jarvik’s 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.
Jarvik Heart, 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.