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Defensive advertising

Bloomberg reports that Pfizer is premiering a two-and-a-half-minute commercial (via Childs) for its COX-2 Celebrex that acknowledges that all NSAIDs have cardiovascular risks, and then argues that the benefits of Celebrex exceed the risks. The advertising will be an interesting empirical test of the failure-to-warn theory of causation: if it increases sales of Celebrex, it shows that additional information makes consumers more likely to use the drug, but if the lengthy warnings decrease sales, it would support plaintiffs' lawyers' contentions that the lack of a warning caused people to take the drug when they wouldn't have. (One presumes that Pfizer, before blowing $200,000 per ad, focus-grouped this fairly extensively and is confident that the advertising will increase sales.)

Not that facts make much difference in these litigations: worldwide Vioxx sales went up after Merck included the VIGOR study (which had previously been released to doctors) in its warnings, yet plaintiffs' attorneys persist in arguing that Merck's delay in negotiations with the FDA over approval of the content of those warnings should result in liability.

Celebrex sales were nearly halved in 2005 in the wake of bad publicity over Vioxx and a moratorium on advertising by Pfizer, but Pfizer is still selling about two billion dollars worth of the drug a year while facing a fraction of the lawsuits Merck is after the latter withdrew its COX-2, Vioxx, from the market.



Rafael Mangual
Project Manager,
Legal Policy

Manhattan Institute


Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.