Lipitor's Jarvik ads pulled

February 25, 2008 3:15:16 PM PST
Artficial heart inventor loses controversial role as pitchman for Lipitor

Pfizer said Monday it is pulling its Lipitor advertisements that feature the inventor of the artificial heart whose endorsement came under congressional fire earlier this year.

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

But House Democrats said the ads could be misleading to consumers because Jarvik is not licensed to practice medicine. Jarvik went to medical school, but never obtained a license to practice medicine.

The ads have come under fire because Jarvik was paid nearly $1.3 million, much higher than any similar celebrity drug endorsements, and because a body double may have been used to create a more athletic look in some scenes.

In a statement Monday, the company said it would provide "greater clarity in our advertising regarding the presentation of spokespeople."

U.S. Rep. John Dingell, chair of the Energy and Commerce, said, "Pfizer's decision was a wise one, and I am pleased our investigation prompted the removal of Lipitor ads featuring Dr. Jarvik.

"I commend Pfizer for doing the right thing and pulling the Lipitor ads featuring Dr. Jarvik," said U.S. Bart Stupak, chair of the House Committee on Oversight. "When consumers see and hear a doctor endorsing medication, they expect the doctor is a credible individual with requisite knowledge of the drug. Drug companies should know that they will be held accountable for the representations made in their ads."

The lawmakers made it clear their investigation of the Lipitor ads is now over. They still plan to meet with Dr. Jarvik, and will talk to Pfizer officials about their future ad plans.

Today's decision marks the second ad campaign to be removed since the committee began investigating direct-to-consumer advertisements. Merck/Schering-Plough's "Food and Family" television ads for Vytorin have also been pulled.