When revelers rang in the New Year, Robert Jarvik, MD, was the star of a massive Pfizer Inc. advertising campaign for Lipitor (atorvastatin). By the end of February, Pfizer had ended the campaign, under the pressure of a U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee probe.
The committee’s chair, Rep. John Dingell (D, Mich.), charged that the ads misled the public because they created the impression that Dr. Jarvik is a practicing physician, when he is a biomedical engineer not licensed to practice medicine. The committee disclosed that Dr. Jarvik received $1.35 million under a two-year contract set to expire this month, according to media reports.
Dr. Jarvik, who had helped develop the Jarvik-7 artificial heart, defended his role as a physician spokesman, adding in a statement that his “credibility as a heart expert is fully justified and is fairly represented” in the ads.
But the controversy has sparked a broader conversation about the ethical ramifications of physicians serving as commercial endorsers. While the Lipitor campaign is the most prominent use of a paid physician spokesperson, it is not the only one.
The whole shebang.