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Lipitor Commercials Featuring Dr. Jarvik Raise Concerns

Feb 7, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

Lipitor, the cholesterol medication touted by pioneering cardiac scientist Dr. Robert Jarvik, is the subject of a congressional investigation looking into the way in which Lipitor is being marketed.    The House Energy and Commerce Committee wants to know if Lipitor TV spots featuring Jarvik misled viewers by, among other things, implying Dr. Jarvik’s testimonials are “medical advice” and using a body double to present the doctor as being more fit than he actually is.

The congressional committee wants to interview Dr. Jarvik about his role as the drug’s pitchman.  It also has sent a letter to Lipitor’s maker, Pfizer, asking for "contracts, e-mails, correspondence, and scripts of television and print advertisements" featuring Dr. Jarvik.  It also wanted to know how much Jarvik was paid for appearing in the Lipitor ads.

Of major concern to the committee is statements Dr. Jarvik makes in the ads that some people could take to be medical advice.  For instance, in the commercials, Jarvik says, "Lipitor is one of the most researched medicines. I'm glad I take Lipitor, as a doctor, and a dad."  But Dr. Jarvik is a medical scientist, not a licensed physician.  In fact, Dr. Jarvik ended his training after medical school instead of completing a medical internship.

The chairman of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., a vocal critic of the Lipiotor ads, told ABC News that  Dr. Jarvik "appears to be giving medical advice, but apparently he has never obtained a license to practice or prescribe medicine."

Another issue the congressional committee is looking into is Dr. Jarvik’s actual physical appearance in the Lipitor ad.  The Lipitor spots show him hiking and rowing a racing shell on a lake.  But Dr. Jarvik is no rowing enthusiast, and the Lipitor ads actually show a body double in the shell.  “He’s about as much an outdoorsman as Woody Allen,”longtime collaborator, Dr. O. H. Frazier of the Texas Heart Institute, told The New York Times. “He can’t row.”

According to The New York Times, the Jarvik Lipitor campaign was rolled out the same year that Zocor, Lipitor’s chief competitor, became available as a generic drug that is widely considered about as effective as Lipitor but is sold at a fraction of the cost.  Lipitor, the world’s single best-selling drug, is Pfizer’s biggest product, generating sales of $12.7 billion last year.  The Lipitor Jarvik ads are Pfizer’s attempt to protect its Lipitor market share against cheaper, generically available cholesterol lowering drugs.  Pfizer has reportedly paid Dr. Jarvik in excess of $1 million to appear in the ads, and the drug maker has spent a total of $258 million from January 2006 to September 2007 advertising Lipitor.


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