A big week for big pharma; small victories and big losses for consumers
Consumers claimed one small victory this week when Pfizer yanked its adds for Lipitor that featured Dr. Robert Jarvik. On every other front, it was a miserable week for ordinary people in the battle against Big Pharma.
Pfizer had taken great heat for featuring Jarvik in its recent Lipitor ads. It is beginning to lose market share to a generic form of the cholesterol-lowering drug Zocor, and misused Jarvik as a pitchman. It introduced Jarvik as a doctor but did not disclose that he has never been licensed to practice: he spent his whole career in research. The commercial showed a double sculling a racing shell and pretended it was Jarvik. Most interesting, Jarvik didn't start taking Lipitor, as was claimed in the ad, until a month after the ad began to run, according to the New York Times. We don't know if Jarvik still gets the 1.35 million dollars of compensation, but the House Energy and Commerce Committee will probably drop its investigation of the deceptive ad.
On every other front, consumers took it in the ear. First, the U.S. Supreme Court took an aggressive view of new federal legislation, and interpreted it to deny consumers the right to sue manufacturers of defective medical devices. The Court found implicit in an act of Congress the intent to deny state consumer action statutes that allowed suit against defective devices, even if they were approved by the FDA. As we have pointed out in prior blogs, the FDA is hardly an objective approval mechanism and it has been criticized by many authorities for its lack of expertise, lack of resources and lack of distance from the regulated industry.
This week the court heard arguments over a Michigan statute. Ten years ago, Michigan adopted a wide-ranging drug immunity statute that has not been duplicated in any other state. The only exception to the immunity under the statute was for products approved as a result of fraud by the manufacturer. Alas, even that exception was too broad for the drug industry, and their challenge of the statute is now before the U. S. Supreme Court. Pfizer's lawyer was quoted by the Associated Press claiming that "There is no legitimate state interest here." A lawyer making this argument would have been laughed out of court ten or twenty years ago. This case involves 27 Michigan residents, including the families of six decedents, who suffered severe liver damage taking Rezulin before it was removed from the market. Four hundred deaths nationwide were attributed to the drug before the FDA ordered it off pharmacy shelves.
The even better news? Next month's term includes a law that big pharma claims grants manufacturers complete immunity in all states for any FDA-approved drug.