Congress probes Pfizer about Jarvik ad, other celebrity drug ads

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Dr. Robert Jarvik. Source: ZDNet  

A Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives has opened an investigation into celebrity endorsements of drugs in advertising, particularly the appearance of heart specialist Robert Jarvik, MD, in ads for Pfizer’s lipid-lowering blockbuster Lipitor.

Congressman John Dingell, D-Mich., chairman of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, said that the committee is “concerned that consumers might be misled by Pfizer’s television ads for Lipitor (atorvastatin) starring Dr. Jarvik.” Dingell noted that in the television advertisements, he appears to be giving medical advice, “but apparently, he has never obtained a license to practice or prescribe medicine.”

Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., who chairs the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, added that Americans with heart disease “should make medical decisions based on consultations with their doctors, not on paid advertisements during a commercial break.”

In a letter to Pfizer CEO Jeffrey Kindler dated Jan. 7, requested, the committee members ask the company to provide all records relating to the advertising campaign for Lipitor, including information relating to Jarvik's qualifications and the payment he received to appear in the advertisement campaign within two weeks.

The letter also said that the committee is “concerned that consumers may misinterpret the health claims of a prescription drug promoted in a direct-to-consumer advertisement utilizing a celebrity physician.”

The New York City-based Pfizer responded that Jarvik, inventor of the Jarvik artificial heart, “is a respected healthcare professional and heart expert [and] knows how imperative it is for patients to do everything they can to keep their heart working well.” Furthermore, “the advertising advises consumers to speak to their physicians about their heart health,” Pfizer concluded.