Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Jarvik -- Lipitor spokesperson -- "outed" as an unlicensed physician!

Lately, I've been seeing a lot more of those Dr. Jarvik Lipitor ads on TV and in magazines. When the first version of these ads aired, I thought Jarvik looked like a "fop" because of his fastidious attire -- including a purple tie -- and swishy style (see "Lipitor's Jarvik: Fop or Flop?").

I didn't think this was an image that a successful practicing physician and especially heart specialist should have and wondered if Jarvik would flop as a credible DTC spokesperson for Lipitor.

As it turns out:
  • The Jarvik ads were NOT a flop (although the jury is still out about Jarvik being a fop), and
  • Jarvik is NOT a practicing physician.
It is the second point that I would like to focus on.

I learned yesterday that Jarvik never had a license in any state to practice medicine. This was revealed in a letter to Pfizer from the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, which is investigating the use of celebrity endorsements in DTC advertising (see "Congress Investigates Use of Dr. Jarvik in Lipitor Ads").

When the Jarvik ads first aired, he was touted as the first "real" doctor to be used in a drug ad -- as opposed to fake doctors like the one suggested by Mandy Patinkin (who played Dr. Jeffrey Geiger on CBS's Chicago Hope TV show) in the Crestor ads.

I and many other "experts" believed that Jarvik was a real doctor, which to me means that he has or once had patients that he treated. Bob Erhlich, Chairman of DTC Perspectives, also seems to have been fooled. He wrote in April, 2006:
"In their new Lipitor ad campaign Pfizer followed the trend of using a doctor. In fact, Pfizer decided to find a real doctor known for his heart expertise. His name is Robert Jarvik, inventor of the artificial heart."
I am not belittling the contribution Jarvik has made to medicine, but it does appear to me that the Lipitor ads are misleading consumers into believing that Jarvik is a doctor similar to the doctors they are used to seeing in real life -- one that treats patients and has experience with cholesterol medications. Why else would we believe him as an endorser of Lipitor?

The recent spate of Jarvik Lipitor ads may have been in anticipation of the letter from Congress "outing" him as an unlicensed physician. Or the increased visibility of the ads could have precipitated the letter from Congress.

Either way, it will be interesting to see if Pfizer puts the Jarvik DTC ads back into cold storage until this flap fizzles out or if it continues to air them defiantly. Keep in mind that this is an election year!


  1. Anonymous5:57 PM

    Watch the commercials -- Jarvik dedicated his life to learning how to treat heart disease when his father died from it. He also very clearly says he is a Lipitor patient. Where is it written he has to be a licensed physician, and why does that make him a better (or worse) spokeperson. I think he is credible as an expert on heart disease and more importantly as an expert patient. We've seen actors and athletes that have no credibility other than being a patient. I been on projects where celebrity endorsers went on a drug purely because they had to to become a paid endorser -- they were up for auction!!

    If Jarvik didn't have confidence in the drug, I'm sure he'd be far more likely to say no than the celebrities who are mercenaries getting paid to do a commercial.

    This "outing" is not relevant except to the industry gadflies -- tell me why that makes a difference?? He makes no reference to treating patients, only researching heart disease and clearly states he is a patient.

    Jeez, this is starting to sound like the Enquirer with a celebrity sccop!!!

    Mark Gleason
    HyGro Group

  2. Mark,

    Thanks for your comments.

    Nobody has said that Jarvik had to be a "practicing" physician. It's just what is implied by the characterization of him as a physician.

    Regardless of that issue, I have another point to make about this ad: did it call upon a celebrity to enhance the image of the drug or did it create a celebrity?

    Jarvik actually was MADE a celebrity in the public's eye BY the Lipitor ads. I mean, do you think Joe Sixpack ever heard of Jarvik BEFORE the ads aired? I don't think so. On the other hand, the Boniva commercials do not even have to mention Sally Field's name; everyone knows her! In other words, Pfizer CREATED the image of Jarvik as a world-renowned DOCTOR in the public's eye -- they even fooled an expert like Ehrlich into believing Jarvik was a practicing cardiologist who knows something about treating high cholesterol.

    BTW, even a layperson like Paul Winchell, the renowned ventriloquist, can invent an artificial heart, which he did BEFORE Jarvik did. In fact, the Winchell family claims that Jarvik STOLE Winchell's idea after forcing him to donate his patent to the University of Utah. Here's a comment I received to my October, 2006, post "Lipitor's Jarvik: Fop or Flop?" that first "outed" Jarvik as possibly a closet gay guy (not that there's anything wrong with that): See my post over at Pharma Blogosphere (http://pharmablogosphere.blogspot.com/2008/01/round-sphere-christiane-truelove-and.html)

  3. Anonymous3:49 PM

    Mr. Mack -

    I am not involved in health care at all, except as a patient. I heard on the radio that congress was having some sort of investigation into the Robert Jarvik ads for Lipitor and I didn't understand what the fuss was about, so I asked around and a friend sent me your posting.

    I have to say that I agree with the comments from Mr. Gleason. And, I truly don't understand how you could think that ordinary folks like me (Joe Sixpack) wouldn't know who Robert Jarvik is. I am also rather offended by your obsession with Jarvik's sexual orientation, or rather, your perception of his orientation. I am not at all sure why you think this makes a difference, but the fact that you do seems to taint your comments.

    As regards Paul Winchell, I am sure that if he invented an artificial heart and Jarvik stole the idea, there would have been ample opportunity for the Winchell family to bring an action against Jarvik. If they didn't, I think that speaks for itself. If they did, then I am sure the court had much more information than can be found on any blog.

    Brian Ashley
    Office Manager


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