Congress Asks Pfizer: Why Is Dr. Jarvik Qualified To Pitch Lipitor?

Dr. Robert Jarvik is the inventor of the Jarvik artificial heart, right? You know that because he’s the pitch-man for Lipitor, a heavily advertised cholesterol drug. Have you ever stopped to ask yourself why inventing an artificial heart qualifies the man to pitch a drug?

From Reuters (emphasis ours)

A U.S. House of Representatives committee said on Monday it was probing Pfizer Inc (PFE.N: Quote, Profile, Research) 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.

Really? No license to practice medicine? The WSJ Health Blog explains:

NBC’s science guru Robert Bazell wrote last year that while Jarvik is an M.D., he doesn’t have “the strongest credentials.” His grades as an undergrad at Syracuse University weren’t good enough for U.S. med school, so he attended the University of Bologna in Italy, leaving after two years. In 1976, Jarvik graduated from the University of Utah’s med school, but he never did an internship or practiced medicine, Bazell wrote.

…and of course here’s Pfizer’s response:

Dr. Jarvik is a respected health care professional and heart expert. Dr. Jarvik, inventor of the Jarvik artificial heart, knows how imperative it is for patients to do everything they can to keep their heart working well. Furthermore, the advertising advises consumers to speak to their physicians about their heart health. The communication in the advertising helps educate consumers that it is important to keep the heart healthy including, if necessary, using medications that have been proven to maintain heart health.

That’s all well and good, but can someone explain why Sally Field is qualified to shill Boniva? Is it because she has bones?

Congress to Pfizer: Why is Robert Jarvik the Lipitor Man? [WSJ Health Blog]
U.S. House panel says probing Pfizer Lipitor ads [Reuters]


Edit Your Comment

  1. B says:

    Why is Bob Dole qualified to pitch Viagra?

  2. Why is Chuck Norris qualified to….


  3. GitEmSteveDave says:

    Why is Kirstie Allie qualified to hawk Jenny Craig?

  4. ClayS says:

    Who do we see on TV pitching most drugs? The vast majority are actors.

  5. He says:

    @B: Because he’s a womanizer

  6. topgun says:

    @B: Too funny.
    Oh I don’t know. How many Cardiologists have invented an artificial heart?
    As for Sally Fields I love the part where she laments that her friend “has to set aside one day a week” to take the competitors brand. I picture her friend waking at 6:00 AM just sitting around, not able to do anything but stare at a small white tablet set on her table next to a glass of water. Should I take it at 11:00? Noon? 1:00? she asks herself……

  7. copious28 says:

    I have been complaining about this commercial for a long time. There is some question to the validity of cholesterol/statin research (mercola talks about it: []) to begin with and it always irritated me to no end that they put Jarvik on the commercial.

  8. catnapped says:

    @topgun: Yeah, same thought I’d had…IT’S JUST A PILL NOT A FRIGGIN ORDEAL

  9. CaptainConsumer says:

    Why is a Puma qualified to pitch Cheetos?

  10. Kevin Cotter says:


    Because Kirstie shrunk that giant ass of hers to something a bit more hitable? (sexist but true).

    I don’t know if Jenny Craig is good or not. Most of these celebutards barely finished HS and are telling us how to live and what drugs to take…

  11. tk427 says:

    He says
    “I take it”
    “Lipitor is FDA approved”
    “Ask your doctor”, etc.
    He’s not pretending to be an expert on this drug.

  12. noquarter says:

    I think the bigger question is: Why are people who aren’t doctors qualified to make decisions about what prescription medication they require? And if the answer is “They aren’t”, then why is prescription medication being marketed to them at all?

  13. JulesWinnfield says:

    Why is a lizard qualified to pitch car insurance? And why does it have a cockney accent?

  14. Beerad says:

    @CaptainConsumer: Jeez, he’s a cheetah! Wearing sunglasses! Get it – CHEE-tah? Like CHEE-tos?! Sheesh, sometimes I think you people just aren’t paying enough attention.

    Have you EVER seen a puma eating cheetos? Of course not. That’s just silly.

  15. GitEmSteveDave says:

    @CaptainConsumer: Isn’t it Chester Cheetah?

  16. mysticone says:

    @copious28: Mercola isn’t the most widely respected/reputable doctor himself. He makes a lot of claims that are utter nonsense, but he sure does sell an overly expensive product on his site to address those concerns!

  17. GitEmSteveDave says:

    @JulesWinnfield: I liked it when he just asked people to stop calling him, and then licked his eyeball.

  18. mercnet says:

    If people buy something based on someone famous then they deserve to be mislead. I can understand teenagers falling for this crap, but last time I checked, teenager’s don’t have bad cholesterol…

  19. bradanomics says:

    Way to stick to what is important, congress. How about you cut it out with the inquiries into business practices and start with the inquiries into GOVERNMENT practices??

  20. CaptainConsumer says:

    @GitEmSteveDave: Is that what that is? OK, why is a Cheetah qualified to pitch Cheetos? What ARE his qualifications?

  21. hubris says:

    @CaptainConsumer: lol…burned.

    Seriously, if anyone listens to an AD to tell them what medication they should be on, then they deserve whatever they get. One’s surprised they have enough brain function to put on foot in front of the other, nevermind make medical decisions.

  22. mysticone says:

    @bradanomics: Can’t they do both?

  23. Anonymous says:

    A shill is a shill. It matters not what the qualifications are. If you’re watching an ad, someone is trying to sell you something.

    If the current surgeon general says something, on behalf of the office, I’ll listen and take it seriously – but if it’s a well lit actor/doctor/lizard walking around a CG fantasyland talking in vague terms about a drug? Yeah. Shill. Ad. Ignore.

  24. mindshadow says:

    There’s a difference between a lizard pitching insurance and a guy that’s a doctor, thus giving the impression that he’s a practicing physician qualified to give out medical advice, pitching heart medicine. As someone else stated, he barely made it through med school, and has never actually worked as a physician. If you can’t see the difference in the two I suggest you go stick a fork in a toaster.

    Oh, and he didn’t quite invent the artificial heart, more-so took someone else’s idea and made some changes and called it his own.

  25. SacraBos says:

    @B: Because Bob Dole speaks in the third person. Bob Dole would never say “I endorse this product”, he would say “Bob Dole says Bob Dole endorses this product”.

    He’s so funny, and I think part of it is that he can somehow play his own straight man.

  26. hubris says:

    @CaptainConsumer: When I asked him what his qualifications were on, he said he would have to get back to me. Clearly that bastard is hiding something.

  27. Your first problem is “qualified” and “shill” in the same sentence.

  28. sir_eccles says:

    Have you ever noticed that Robert Jarvik never blinks EVER!

  29. topgun says:

    I heard Pfizer wanted to get infomercial pitchman Billy Mays, but he was afraid that Lipitor might actually work.

  30. shan6 says:

    Why do so many people have the attitude of “if ____ can be fooled by _______ than they deserve to get ______”? I’m sorry but I don’t think that just because somebody is an idiot means they deserve to be mislead.

  31. dwinn says:

    The reps in the House going after Pfizer are from Michigan, so I suspect this is a little revenge for the company laying off staff and moving out of state from their Ann Arbor comlpex.

  32. deweydecimated says:

    The Jarvik Lipitor ads always seemed like a poor idea to me. This is the one guy in the planet who, if Lipitor doesn’t fix his cholesterol and he has a heart attack, already has a replacement heart on reserve.

  33. suzieq says:

    @copious28: You’re basing your opinions on studies by Mercola? really? I had a friend who used to work for him and some of the stories she told were just crazy stupid. Like how he believes that root canals lead to heart attacks and arthritis ([]). I’d listen to Jarvik over him any day.

  34. nutrigm says:

    Great that congress is wasting time asking these idiotic questions! Why is the congress qualified to ask Pfizer these stupid questions?

  35. ClayS says:


    Apparently, you as a patient are supposed to approach your doctor with your drug recommendation. And because you express a preference, your doctor is supposed to feel compelled to prescribe that drug if appropiate.

    Not me. If I have insomnia, I’m going to ask my doctor what he recommends. That’s why I pay him.

  36. cmdr.sass says:

    three words: argument by authority

  37. Bay State Darren says:

    Before this news came out, I personally was seriously interpreting Dr. Jarvik as giving a professional medical opinion based on expertise in cardiology in these ads. Actors and Bob Dole don’t give the impression of being a physician giving medical advice as experts. They’re just spokespersons reading a script. I would expect Dr. Jarvik to, while still reciting the company line for money, be concurring as a medical expert. It’s rather upsetting that his credentials aren’t such that actually prescribe medicine [IIRC, he says in the ads that recommends Lipitor to his patients, who he apparently is qualified to treat in any way, but I could be wrong about that.]

  38. Bay State Darren says:

    @deweydecimated: ROFL!

  39. Sudonum says:

    Bill Clinton turned them down?

  40. Shadowman615 says:

    OK, so he’s an MD, but the Wall Street Journal didn’t think he had a very strong resume, and wishes he had a better GPA? WTF?

    He’s a paid spokesman for a drug company. Nobody is going to see a commercial and think they are getting professional medical advice as if they had gone to their own doctor. Celebrities and professionals appear in product commercials all of the time — I don’t see what the problem is here.

    What about other commercials that just show some paid actor wearing a white coat and stethoscope?

  41. LTS! says:

    Given that you cannot get the drug without talking to your OWN physician.. who cares what is on the television? Your doctor won’t prescribe Lipitor if he feels it’s bad for you. I am quite certain he can do without the malpractice lawsuit.

    He’ll prescribe Lipitor if it’s acceptable for you and if Pfizer has been in the office lately. Otherwise you’re getting Crestor, Maxtor, Voltron, or some other stupidly named chemical.

    Congress is investigating this because in order to do so there will need to be serious discussions heard in various territories over expensive meals that are paid for by the pharmaceuticals and in the end no one cares.

  42. Sam says:

    Didn’t Jarvik do a fictitious ad in Robocop? (Googles) Yes, yes they did (first paragraph).

  43. geeky_reader says:

    Why is Bug (Jay Underwood) qualified to pitch Advil?

  44. emona says:

    @sir_eccles: Side effects may include…

  45. j03m0mma says:

    @CaptainConsumer: He’s a cheetah not a puma. Chester the Cheetah.

  46. JustIcedCoffee says:

    I agree
    Congressman: Mr Pfizer, what’s your favorite color? and I understand you run ads, now please tell us why you run these ads?
    Pzizer: Well we are to blue, as in Viagra, and we run ads because we are selling things. next question.

    This of course ignores the fact that obvious answer is because the FDA lifted the restrictions on direct to consumer advertising. and it works (direct to consumer advertising) it can turn a mediocre drug into a block buster —

  47. Leiterfluid says:

    (complete non sequitur, but the Sally Field comment made me think of it)

    My only regret… is that I have… BONEITIS!

  48. marsneedsrabbits says:

    Paul Winchell, the voice of Tigger, Gargamel from the Smurfs, and Sam-I-am was the inventor of a very artificial heart (he held the patent and everything).

    It’s a shame he’s dead, or they could have gotten him to do it. Who wouldn’t want a drug that Tigger approved of?

    He also invented the disposable razor & a huge number of other products. More on Paul Winchell & his inventions: []

  49. DXDawg says:


    You do know what they call the person who graduates last in his class from med school, don’t you?

  50. mk says:

    @deweydecimated: I agree. I always thought, he’s a heart doctor and he doesn’t know how to take care of his heart enough he has to take a drug? I’m not listening to him.

  51. ceejeemcbeegee is not here says:

    Should be congress be more concerned about the line, “Tell your Doctor is you have (insert laundry list of chronic aliments here)”? I mean, why should patients be telling their doctors they’ve got xyz disease, shouldn’t their doctors already know?

  52. Instigator says:

    I think Dr. Jarvik wants us to use Lipitor so we won’t need to have his invention installed in us – because the damn thing doesn’t work for long!

  53. I_can_still_pitch says:

    @marsneedsrabbits: paul winchell was also an insufferable prick, whereas april winchell (his daughter) is cool as hell.

  54. I_can_still_pitch says:

    @Instigator: very true; it’s not a very good artificial heart.

  55. mindshadow says:

    @DXDawg: Yeah, but point being he’s not THAT kind of doctor. He’s never treated a patient in his life, but they give the impression in the commercial that he treats people all the time. And like I said, even his claim to fame isn’t that big of a deal, as it’s basically just a slight improvement on someone else’s design.

    We have a doctor of education where I work. I call them Dr. whatever. However, I would never EVER ask them for medical advice. Dressing them up in a white coat and putting them on tv pushing a product would be the same as the commercial with Dr. Jarvik pushing Lipitor, because they’re pretty much just as qualified. Doctor by name does not mean doctor by skill. Hell, even a practicing physician, if I found out he struggled as much as Dr. Jarvik did to get his M.D., I would be looking for a new doctor.

    @Instigator: Yeah, the JARVIK-7 only works for like 6 months and then you croak. It’s helpful, but definitely not a permanent solution.

  56. topgun says:

    @DXDawg: I heard it but I forgot. Give us the punchline already.

  57. ShortBus says:

    @DXDawg: A doctor.

  58. Edinboron says:

    The real question should be, “why would Pfizer want the creepiest looking guy in the world pitching their drug”? That guy gives me the creeps. Kervorkian would be a better pitch man than Jarvik.

  59. basket548 says:

    He most certainly is THAT kind of doctor, a medical doctor. He’s not claiming to be a doctor of education or any other discipline. If he decided not to practice medicine, as some doctors do, that’s his call. No one insists that you have patients to be an MD, you simply must pass the educational requirements.

    And if you’re going to argue commercials based on the IMPRESSION that the commercial gives, then you’re going to have trouble interpreting damn near every commercial ever. For example, the commercial for Alli (another drug) certainly doesn’t imply anal leakage. But guess what the number one side effect is.

  60. basket548 says:

    RE: Grades

    Uh, who the hell cares what he got as an undergrad? Know how much medicine is taught at the undergrad level? No one says that doctors must get all A’s in English / philosophy…maybe he decided to become a doctor later in life or had one bad year. Not that I trust the guy at all, but it’s really not relevant.

  61. Klink says:

    Because Dr. Robert Jarvik is a jedi.
    You don’t need to see my credentials…

  62. Greasy Thumb Guzik says:

    Why would you buy anything pitched by a guy that looks a lot like George W. Bush?

  63. HOP says:

    leave my hero, chuck norris alone………

  64. Bay State Darren says:

    @Greasy Thumb Guzik: Let’s not be that mean.

  65. spinachdip says:

    @basket548: There’s a difference between giving an impression, and lending authority (or in this case, creating an illusion of authority).

    But really, any doctor who appears in pharm ad needs to be shot. Hard.

  66. XianZomby says:

    @ceejeemcbeegee: People go to different doctors for different issues. You might expect that all the doctors in the world get together on their single, unified file sharing network and chat room to pass your medical file around to each other, but that would be wrong. If you are seeing one doctor and then you go to another for another issue, you need to let the second doctor know that you see the first. Then offer to get copies of your medical files sent over, and let him know every prescription you are taking. As a patient, you should ensure file sharing is occurring. You can’t expect your heart specialist to know that another doctor on another side of town in a different practice and who is affiliated with a different insurance network has prescribed something for your toe fungus. This is kind of like the whole “who has the obligation to broach the subject of an HIV/herpes infection” issue. Some people say it’s the person with the disease. Some say it’s the person that is totally healthy and wants to stay that way. But you know, it’s your body — if you want to stay healthy you should probably forget about who’s “obligated” to say something or to ask the important questions — and you should raise every subject that could affect your health, every time your health could be affected.

  67. savdavid says:

    Money can buy you anything, even a fake doctor.

  68. thatgirlinnewyork says:

    @nutrigm: Congress is doing this ecause the FDA is up to its neck in former pharmaceutical execs running it–so much that some are calling for yet ANOTHER bureaucratic layer to be created to police the FDA…during an election year, Congress wants you to know that they can put aside their petty differences and look like they’re doing well by voters.

  69. Dawnrazor says:

    I do not believe Pfizer actually intended anything manipulative or nefarious as the implication (at least what I interpret) is simply that the “inventor” of the artificial heart has some authority in matters relating to general cardiac health matters and as such can speak with at least some degree of credible authority regarding general cardiac health matters. That is not the point however; the real issue is the fact that pharma spends nearly TWICE as much on marketing as they do on research (which is always their convenient excuse when the excessive costs of some of their products is scrutinized). It is obscene that much of the cost burden on consumers is for nothing more than the privilege of being marketed to via almost every possible avenue up to and including erection promoting meds on race cars (we all know who I’m referring to, but I don’t want to give them the satisfaction of actually naming names-screw them)! Another consequence of all this marketing is that it can hinder the physician-patient rapport: patients are upset that the doctor did not prescribe the medication they suggested (based upon some ad they saw/read and decided they “needed”) while the doctor feels pressured to “satisfy” the patient request (even though it might not be the absolute best choice in the situation). Finally, a significant reason for the increases in diagnosis such as bipolar disorder, depression, irritable bowel syndrome, and attention deficit disorders over the past few reasons is the influence of marketing (on both consumers and providers alike). The reigning-in of marketing costs is an absolutely essential first step in reforming health care in this country.

  70. newspapersaredead says:

    I don’t understand why there needs to be any pharmaceutical advertising period. Pharmaceuticals should be advertising to doctors who can then make recommendations to patients. Instead patients come into the doctors office wanting the latest wonder drug just like children go to their parents wanting the latest toy they saw advertised on during cartoons. Doctors feel obliged to write the prescription in fear of losing the patient to a doctor who will gladly write the prescription every 3 months or so as long as you come in for a visit each time. As far as this busting this guy for his grades in college, HE INVENTED THE ARTIFICIAL HEART! Nuff said. Yea, Bill Gates didn’t graduate from college so he really isn’t the best authority on computer programming and probably has no business appearing in Microsoft ads. I think this reporter Robert Bazelle got really good grades in college and is frustrated he is a lousy medical reporter on a 6:30 news broadcast nobody ever watches anymore.

  71. lostalaska says:

    Maybe I’m just a little dense, but why do we even need all these prescription drug commercials anyways. If you have a medical problem and you go to a doctor and you do need some kind of medication ask him about the alternatives and options and find out then.

    These commercials just seem pointless to me.

  72. spinachdip says:

    @lostalaska: That’s because you’re not in the pharm industry.

    They want patients to do exactly what they suggest in the ads, diagnose themselves and ask their doctor if XYZ is right for them. Meanwhile, pharm reps are pounding on doctors’ doors, bringing samples and taking them out to nice restaurants.

    It’s really all fucked up.

  73. boxjockey68 says:

    why are they pitching prescription drugs on TV anyhow??
    I agree with SPINACHDIP it is all really fucked up, and getting more & more fucked with every sitcom that goes by.

  74. Bay State Darren says:

    First let me say that I agree: 100% Big Pharma should not market to consumers so that we run to our doctors yelling: “I saw this stuff on TV! Prescribe me it!” but I must admit a degree of futility in such a ban [which I still support]. My PCP’s office is covered with marketing junk from drug companies. He’s probably under their spell anyways. [But he did Rx me happy pills on my first visit, so that actually proved to be good thing.]

  75. Rode2008 says:

    In response to the question about why Big Pharm is pitching their products to Joe and Mary SixPack on national TV when neither Joe nor Mary can go off and buy the product (w.o a R/X), the answer is something im marketing called “demand pull”. Advertisers are leveraging the concept of pull demand wherein they turn the average schmuck on to request the product from a Dr.. That way, the Big Pharm wine-and-diners (of the Drs.) have the additional pitch from Joe and Mary the patients of the Dr.

    The concept of pull demand is very powerful and used quite frequently. I’m sure we’re all familiar with the tag line: “If your local grocer doesn’t have it, ask him to order it for you”. This is an attempt to turn the customer into a de facto sales rep for the manufacturer.

    Marketing 101.

  76. cloudedice says:

    Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about Dr. Jarvik’s Artificial heart:

    “The first patented artificial heart was invented by Paul Winchell in 1963 [1]. Winchell subsequently assigned the patent to the University of Utah, where Robert Jarvik ultimately used it as the model for his Jarvik-7. Jarvik’s designs improved the device, but his patients succumbed after brief trials. His first Jarvik-7 patient, 61-year-old retired dentist Barney Clark, survived for 112 days after it was implanted at the University of Utah on December 2, 1982. One of the innovations of the Jarvik-7 was the inner coating of rough material, developed by David Gernes. This coating helped the blood to clot and coat the inside of the device, enabling a more natural blood flow.

    After about 90 people received the Jarvik device, the implantation of artificial hearts was banned for permanent use in patients with heart failure, because most of the recipients could not live more than half a year. However, it is used temporarily for some heart transplantation candidates who cannot find a natural heart immediately but urgently need an efficiently working heart.”

    Seems like he’s less of an inventor and more of an innovator. He didn’t even come up with the most notable of the improvements.

  77. Unnamed Source says:

    The two slightly more important questions here are: Why are drug companies spending more on advertising than on research? and Why are they allowed to advertised to anyone other than those that can prescribe in the first place?

  78. goodkitty says:

    A non-doctor who created a marginally-working medical device hawking pharmaceutical company products? It sounds like they were made for each other.

    The first thing I think of now whenever I see someone on TV or hear them on the radio, no matter what their credentials are or what they are talking about, is “what monetary benefit are they getting from doing this?” There are no wholly charitable acts anymore in public media.

  79. firefoxx66 says:

    I find the most hilarious thing about these ads is that the Jarvik heart failed miserably and Jarvik’s trails were regarded in most of the medical communities as being ‘ethical monstrosities’. You can read all about it in many ethics books that cover organ transplants. What a great guy! Pretty much shamed into nothingness until Pfizer came along.

  80. missbheave (is not convinced) says:

    I just want the man to get a haircut.

  81. jchabotte says:

    Why is Robert Wagner selling reverse mortgages? is it because he’s old and a homeowner?

  82. Veeber says:

    @LTS!: You didn’t read the article about doctors prescribing placebos to get rid of a patient? There are a lot of patients who will make demands and frequently jump around to different doctors until they get the answer they want. Advertising specific products to patients is part of the problem.

    I have no problem with them advertising conditions, as long as there is no product name mentioned. So if they are doing a public education campaign to say, “High cholesterol is bad for you, go talk to your doctor to see if you need to lower it.” I’d be ok with it. Advertisers are really good at convincing people to buy/demand specific products, and when it comes to medicine, might not be the best idea.

  83. banmojo says:

    @mysticone: and the research on statins is quite extensive. Once again, most people don’t know that, most people do not read the literature, which is why most people trust their MDs to tell them what to do regarding their healthcare. Unless you want to become a healthcare professional yourself, I’d recommend you DO listen to your board certified doctor. Up till now, most studies (the properly designed ones especially – believe me that makes a difference!) have shown Lipitor to be an amazing drug; one could even speculate that putting lipitor in our drinking water would cause our national life expectancy to go up by 1 or 2 years overall. I’m not kidding. Should Jarvik be pitching the stuff? No. He shouldn’t. Should drug companies be allowed to advertise their stuff to lay people who don’t have the necessary training to understand what they’re seeing/hearing? No, they shouldn’t. I think the latter point is the one we should be making here today. Congress GFY.

  84. gibbersome says:

    Bad undergrad grades makes you worthless? Oh no!

  85. LostInItAll says:

    Not only do you need a doctor to prescribe, your insurance company has to approve and if it’s not generic good luck. And why do hospitals advertise? The patient has to go where their insurance company says they can.