DR. ROBERT JARVIK doesn’t row. The spokesperson for Pfizer’s cholesterol-lowering medication Lipitor also isn’t a cardiologist, nor is he licensed to practice medicine. And former colleagues even contest his claim to be the “inventor of the Jarvik artificial heart.” After a Congressional committee began looking into the misrepresentation of Jarvik’s credentials, Pfizer pulled long- running Lipitor commercials featuring Jarvik off the air in February. Pfizer spent more than $258 million on advertising for Lipitor over the past two years, the majority of it on the Jarvik campaign. A Congressional investigation revealed that Pfizer agreed to pay Jarvik a minimum of $1.35 million for a two-year contract to act as a Lipitor spokesperson.
The Lipitor commercials depict Jarvik as an accomplished rower – when in reality a body double was called in – and tout Jarvik as the inventor of an artificial heart. According to the New York Times, during a conference in December 2007, a former colleague of Jarvik’s, Dr. Clifford S. Kwan-Gett, said that Jarvik’s artificial hearts were simply different versions of prototypes Kwan-Gett had designed more than a year earlier. Perhaps most importantly, given his role in encouraging consumers to “talk to their doctor” about Lipitor, Jarvik is not licensed to practice medicine and can’t legally prescribe medication.
The House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations started an investigation in January into “false and misleading statements and the use of celebrity endorsements of prescription medications in direct-to-consumer advertising.”
“We are taking a hard look at the deceptive tactics of drug companies in their direct-to-consumer advertising,” says Representative Bart Stupak, D-Michigan, the subcommittee chairman. “Drug companies should know that they will be held accountable for the representations made in their ads,” he says.
“The way in which we presented Dr. Jarvik in these ads has, unfortunately, led to misimpressions and distractions for our primary goal of encouraging patient and physician dialogue on the leading cause of death in the world – cardiovascular disease,” says Ian Read, president of worldwide pharmaceutical operations for Pfizer. “We regret this. Going forward, we commit to ensuring there is greater clarity in our advertising regarding the presentation of spokespeople.”
Copyright Multinational Monitor Jul/Aug 2008
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