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!