(Adds reaction from lawmakers, background)
By Lisa Richwine
WASHINGTON, Feb 25 (Reuters) - Pfizer Inc (PFE.N) said on Monday it was pulling advertisements for its Lipitor cholesterol drug featuring Dr. Robert Jarvik, inventor of the Jarvik artificial heart, because they created “misimpressions.”
The ads involving Jarvik had come under scrutiny from a U.S. House of Representative committee as part of an investigation into celebrity endorsements of prescription medicines.
Democratic lawmakers had voiced concern that Jarvik’s qualifications were misrepresented in widely seen television commercials touting the blockbuster drug. They said Jarvik seemed to be dispensing medical advice even though he is not a practicing physician.
The commercials, which portray Jarvik in various outdoor activities, also raised eyebrows after news reports that a stunt double was used in a scene with a man rowing across a lake.
On his company’s Web site, Jarvik describes himself as a medical scientist who has worked in the field of artificial hearts for 36 years and does not practice clinical medicine or treat individual patients.
Pfizer, the world’s largest drugmaker, said it was withdrawing the Jarvik ads voluntarily.
“The way in which we presented Dr. Jarvik in these ads has, 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. We regret this,” Ian Read, Pfizer’s president of worldwide pharmaceutical operations, said in a statement.
“Going forward, we commit to ensuring there is greater clarity in our advertising regarding the presentation of spokespeople,” Read said.
New Lipitor campaigns will be launched in several weeks, Read added.
Lipitor, part of the statin family of cholesterol-lowering medicines, is the world’s best-selling prescription drug. Global sales fell 2 percent to $12.7 billion in 2007, hurt by competition from low-cost generic forms of Merck & Co Inc’s (MRK.N) Zocor.
Lawmakers probing the Jarvik ads praised Pfizer’s decision to stop running them.
“We trust that Pfizer is sincere in its commitment to ‘greater clarity’ in its advertising. My colleagues and I look forward to meeting with Pfizer’s management team to discuss their plans related to direct-to-consumer advertising,” House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell said in a statement.
Rep. Bart Stupak, who chairs the panel’s subcommittee on investigations, said lawmakers still planned to meet with Jarvik and collect and review documents requested as part of the investigation. Dingell and Stupak are both Michigan Democrats.
Officials at Jarvik Heart Inc in New York, where Jarvik serves as president and chief executive, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday.
In a statement issued in January, Jarvik said he had the “training, experience and medical knowledge to understand the conclusions of the extensive clinical trials” of Lipitor.
Lipitor is known generically as atorvastatin. Zocor’s generic name is simvastatin. (Reporting by Lewis Krauskopf and Lisa Richwine; editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Braden Reddall)