Pfizer begins new Lipitor advertising today

The top-selling prescription drug in the world is getting a new marketing campaign starting today. The campaign, developed by Lipitor DTC agency of record Kaplan Thaler Group, incorporates television and print ads featuring the inventor of the artificial heart, Dr. Robert Jarvik. The ads are designed to help educate consumers about the link between high cholesterol and heart health and to motivate them to take action, said Alison Lehanski, Pfizer spokesperson. “Increased high cholesterol is a major risk factor for heart disease, yet millions of people are not being appropriately treated,” she told MM&M in an e-mail. The ad blitz comes not a moment too soon, with a generic version of Merck’s Zocor set to arrive later this year that could start sapping share from Lipitor (atorvastatin calcium). Before Pfizer announced its selection of Publicis’ Kaplan Thaler earlier this year, the company had been running an interim campaign for Lipitor consisting of a print ad with a new brief summary format. December saw the launch of an unbranded TV campaign by CRM agency Unit 7 to promote cardio and cholesterol awareness. The new advertising builds on these efforts, informing people that Lipitor is one of many treatment options to consider for those who have not been able to manage their cholesterol through diet and exercise alone. “This is reflective of our commitment to include alternative treatment language in our advertising to help support a productive patient-healthcare provider dialogue,” Lehanski said. The print ad also continues to use the new brief summary format, called Important Facts. Meanwhile, a lawsuit, filed this week in federal court in Newark, NJ, alleges that Pfizer illegally sought to persuade doctors to prescribe Lipitor to patients with only low to moderate heart-disease risk, in violation of its federally approved labeling. The suit, filed by the Teamsters Union and employee health plans, alleges that Pfizer launched a deliberate scheme in 2001 to expand the use of Lipitor beyond what has been approved by the FDA, encouraging doctors to use the drug on patients with evidence of elevated cholesterol but low 10-year probability of a heart attack. Citing internal Pfizer marketing documents, the suit further alleges that Pfizer-funded studies and physician-education programs encouraged doctors to use Lipitor early in treatment, despite the risk of side effects in some patients. Pfizer spokesperson Bryant Haskins told MM&M via e-mail that “Pfizer has and continues to take seriously its responsibility to provide appropriate information to physicians and patients and to comply with all federal laws and regulations regarding the promotion of our medicines. Based on the information provided to us, we believe there is absolutely no merit to the claims regarding the promotion of Lipitor.” Separately, federal prosecutors in New York are reviewing this case of alleged off-label marketing. The Justice Department, however, has not issued subpoenas in the matter, and at press time it wasn’t clear whether it would pursue a case against Pfizer. “We’re aware of no subpoenas being issued to the company,” Haskins said. “We have provided information to the US Attorney’s office strongly supporting our position that the matters under consideration have absolutely no merit.” Pfizer’s Lipitor achieved global sales of more than $12 billion last year. Since 2001, the drug has had sales of $46 billion.