WASHINGTON A U.S. House of Representatives committee said on Monday it was probing Pfizer Inc (PFE.N) advertisements that feature heart specialist Robert Jarvik pitching its blockbuster cholesterol drug Lipitor.
Democrats on the House Energy & Commerce Committee said they were worried the widely seen commercials may mislead consumers. The probe is part of an investigation into celebrity endorsements of prescription medications, the lawmakers said.
"We are concerned that consumers may misinterpret the health claims of a prescription drug promoted in a direct-to-consumer advertisement utilizing a celebrity physician," top committee Democrats said in a letter to Pfizer.
The letter also said the lawmakers were "concerned that Dr. Jarvik's qualifications may be misinterpreted in this advertisement campaign given that he may not be a practicing physician with a valid license in any state."
The ads tout Jarvik as the inventor of the Jarvik artificial heart. Pfizer promotes Lipitor for lowering cholesterol and reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke for patients with several risk factors for heart disease.
Lipitor, the world's best-selling prescription drug, has annual sales of about $12 billion.
In a statement, Pfizer said Jarvik "is a respected health care professional and heart expert" and "knows how imperative it is for patients to do everything they can to keep their heart working well."
The company said the ads help educate consumers about the importance of keeping their hearts healthy and urge them to discuss the matter with their doctors.
A man who answered the phone at Jarvik Heart Inc in New York, where Jarvik serves as president and chief executive, said he had no comment about the claim that Jarvik may not be a practicing physician. He said the company might provide comment later.
The letter to Pfizer, signed by Michigan Democrats John Dingell and Bart Stupak, asks the company to provide all records relating to the advertising campaign for Lipitor, including records on Jarvik's qualifications and information on how much Pfizer paid him.
Dingell chairs the House Energy & Commerce Committee, and Stupak heads its subcommittee on oversight and investigations.
(Reporting by Lisa Richwine, editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Carol Bishopric)