Congress questions Jarvik's Lipitor lip service

January 9, 2008 2:18:52 PM PST
House Democrats are investigating whether consumers are being misled by advertisements for Lipitor, featuring the world-renowned inventor of an artificial heart.

In the ads, which began their heavy rotation in 2006, Dr. Robert Jarvik talks about the benefits of Pfizer's cholesterol-lowering drug, the world's best-selling medication.

Michigan Reps. John Dingell and Bart Stupak sent a letter to Pfizer Monday, questioning Jarvik's credibility.

"In the ads, Dr. Jarvik appears to be giving medical advice, but apparently, he has never obtained a license to practice or prescribe medicine," the lawmakers state. A spokesman for Dingell on Monday could not confirm whether Jarvik is certified to practice medicine, but cited media reports that he never took an internship or practiced medicine.

Jarvik could not be reached by phone Monday evening.

According to the Web site of his company, Jarvik holds a degree in engineering from New York University and a medical degree from the University of Utah.

After earning a medical degree, physicians must complete a series of tests to earn certification to practice medicine.

Pfizer spokesman Chris Loder said Jarvik's presence in the advertisements is meant to educate consumers on the importance heart health.

"Dr. Jarvik is a respected health care professional and heart expert who knows how imperative it is for patients to do everything they can to keep their heart working well," Loder said in a statement.

In their letter, Dingell and Stupak request that the company turn over all records of its contract with Jarvik and any information about his professional qualifications. The lawmakers said the action is the first step in a larger investigation of celebrities endorsing prescription medicine.

Pfizer enlisted former senator and presidential candidate Bob Dole to pitch Viagra in 1999 and before that rival Merck & Co. Inc. paid Olympic skating champion Dorothy Hamill to appear in ads for Vioxx. Companies have scaled back on such endorsements in recent years amid questions of whether actors, athletes and politicians have any business hawking medicine.

When Pfizer first launched the Jarvik advertisement, many analysts saw it as a more sober approach to marketing.

Lipitor sales were $13.6 billion in 2006.

Shares of New York-based Pfizer Inc. fell 5 cents Monday to $23.18 in after-hours trading, following an earlier close at $23.23.


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