Congress questions celebrity endorsements, FDA oversight of DTC drug ads

March 5, 2008

The campaign against drug TV advertising and marketing seems to be accelerating in Washington and around the country. The latest salvo comes from leaders of the House Energy & Commerce Committee who want information from pharmaceutical companies and the Food and Drug Administration about questionable marketing campaigns.

The campaign against drug TV advertising and marketing seems to be accelerating in Washington and around the country. The latest salvo comes from leaders of the House Energy & Commerce Committee who want information from pharmaceutical companies and the Food and Drug Administration about questionable marketing campaigns.

E&C Chairman John Dingell and Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Bart Stupak, both Michigan Democrats, are questioning the use of celebrity spokesman Dr. Robert Jarvik in Pfizer commercials for Lipitor (atorvastatin). The legislators consider the ads misleading because Jarvik is not a heart specialist and didn’t perform the energetic rowing shown in TV commercials featuring his comments.

Celebrity endorsements are problematic for any DTC advertising, according to the investigators. However, they consider it particularly troubling to use stunt doubles in ads designed to emphasize a medicine’s powerful effectiveness.

The crack-down on Lipitor ads by the House committee follows their investigation into ads for Vytorin promoting the drugs effectiveness, which subsequently came into question. The committee demanded that FDA provide it with all agency records relating to print, broadcast and internet advertising for Vytorin, which brought in boxes of documents and disks. In addition, co-marketers Merck and Schering-Plough halted consumer advertising of Vytorin.