News

Pfizer ends advertisements featuring inventor of artificial heart

BMJ 2008; 336 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.39509.764144.C2 (Published 06 March 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;336:525
  1. Janice Hopkins Tanne
  1. 1New York

    Pfizer has cancelled print and television advertisements in which Robert Jarvik, inventor of an artificial heart, promotes the use of atorvastatin (Lipitor), the company’s cholesterol lowering drug.

    In one of the Pfizer advertisements, Dr Jarvik says, “Lipitor is one of the most researched medicines. I’m glad I take Lipitor, as a doctor, and a dad.”

    In the advertisements Dr Jarvik says that he took the drug when diet and exercise were not enough to control his cholesterol concentration. He is shown, trim and athletic, rowing a scull across a pristine mountain lake.

    In January the House of Representatives’ Energy and Commerce Committee began investigating the advertisements as part of a larger inquiry into the use of celebrities to promote prescription drugs (Philadelphia Inquirer, www.philly.com, 25 Feb, “Pfizer removing Jarvik from ads for Lipitor”).

    Last month major newspapers reported that although Dr Jarvik had a medical degree from the University of Utah he was not licensed to practise medicine or to prescribe drugs and was not a cardiologist but worked as an inventor at his company, Jarvik Heart (New York Times, www.nytimes.com, 26 Feb, “Pfizer to end Lipitor ads by Jarvik”).

    The New York Times also reported that the advertisements showed a body double, not Dr Jarvik, rowing the scull across the lake.

    Dr Jarvik said in a statement that he had become a spokesman for the drug because his father had died of heart disease and that this had motivated him to become a doctor (Washington Post, www.washingtonpost.com, 26 Feb, “Pfizer cancels Lipitor ads”).

    Pfizer was reported to have paid Dr Jarvik $1.35m (£0.7m; €0.9m) for his work in the advertisements and to have spent $258m on advertising since January 2006, most of it on the Jarvik campaign.

    Atorvastatin, with sales of $12.7bn last year, is the world’s biggest selling drug, but it faces challenges from Merck’s cholesterol lowering drug simvastatin (Zocor), which is now available in a cheaper generic version.

    Withdrawing the Jarvik advertisements, Pfizer said in a statement that the advertisements “provided valuable and medically accurate information about the risks of high cholesterol and how Lipitor can help patients reduce their risk of heart attack and stroke” but had “unfortunately led to misimpressions and distractions from our primary goal of encouraging patient and physician dialogue on the leading cause of death in the world—cardiovascular disease.” Pfizer said it would launch new advertising for atorvastatin in the next few weeks.

    Dr Jarvik said in a statement on his company’s website that although he did not practise clinical medicine or treat individual patients, “I have the training, experience, and medical knowledge to understand the conclusions of the extensive clinical trials that have been conducted to study the safety and effectiveness of Lipitor” (www.jarvikheart.com).

    Adding to the controversy, former colleagues of Dr Jarvik asserted in the New York Times article that he was not the inventor of the artificial heart; that honour, they say, belonged to his mentor Willem Kolff and his colleague Tetsuzo Akutsu. On his company website Dr Jarvik says that he contributed to the development of the first permanent total artificial heart.