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resume airing ads for Celebrex
April 26; 2007
Schmit, USA TODAY
Pfizer (PFE) plans to launch a 2½-minute
TV commercial Monday for arthritis painkiller Celebrex, which has been
off TV for more than two years due to safety concerns about drugs in
The spot is five times as long as most TV
ads. Pfizer says the time is needed to explain Celebrex's risks and
benefits and to dispel confusion. Many consumers wrongly assume it was
withdrawn with Vioxx, a similar drug, in 2004, Pfizer says.
The ad also points out that
prescription-strength ibuprofen and naproxen — Celebrex's chief rivals
— carry similar government-mandated warnings about cardiovascular risk
and that they, too, pose risks to stomachs and intestines.
"It's one of the longest TV ads I've ever
heard of," says Louis Morris, an ex-Food and Drug Administration
official who monitored drug ads and is now an industry consultant.
The return of Celebrex to TV follows its
financial comeback. Celebrex sales hit $3.3 billion in 2004 then
dropped 48% in the year after Vioxx's withdrawal. Last year, Celebrex
sales were $2 billion. Still, it ranks behind ibuprofen and naproxen in
arthritis prescriptions, according to market tracker Verispan. Before
the Vioxx recall, Celebrex was ahead of naproxen but behind ibuprofen.
The FDA in 2005 reiterated its belief that
Celebrex's benefits outweighed its risks, even though it was in the
same class of drugs as Vioxx. The Merck drug was withdrawn after
studies showed increased heart attack and stroke risk in some users.
The FDA in 2005 also required its strongest warning on Celebrex and
prescription-strength ibuprofen, naproxen and other NSAIDs, or
non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
Pfizer agreed to halt consumer ads for
Celebrex after the Vioxx recall and before the FDA cited Pfizer for
downplaying risks and overstating benefits of Celebrex and another
painkiller, Bextra, in several ads, including a 27-minute infomercial
that named Pfizer but not the drugs. Print ads for Celebrex returned
last year. Bextra was pulled from the market in 2005 after the FDA said
its risks exceeded its benefits.
The new Celebrex ad, "Understand the
risks. See the benefits," shows a man bending, riding a bike, fishing
and dancing. Risks are mentioned early. Many drug ads have been
criticized for giving risk information only at the end.
"They do a responsible job," says Steven
Nissen, chair of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, who
saw the ad but favors a ban on consumer drug ads. In 2005, the industry
adopted guidelines to improve consumer ads.
Long drug ads won't become the norm, says
Mark Bard, president of marketing consulting firm Manhattan Research.
"This is a unique situation," he says. "You're basically trying to
re-brand a familiar brand."
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