By Shannon Pettypiece/Bloomberg
New York: Pfizer Inc., seeking to revive sales of its Celebrex painkiller will air the first television commercials for the drug on 2 April unlike the campaign that was halted two years ago because of concerns about heart attacks and stroke.
The advertisements, approved by U.S. regulators, note that Celebrex and rival pain pills such as ibuprofen and naproxen all carry similar warnings. The commercial then suggests viewers weigh the risks against Celebrex’s ability to alleviate arthritis pain. The first ad will run during The View, a daytime talk show, the New York-based company said.
Celebrex works similarly to Merck & Co.’s Vioxx, taking a backseat in 2004 after it was linked to heart attacks and strokes. Pfizer expects the ads will counter consumer perceptions that Celebrex was also recalled and is more dangerous than similar drugs on the market. Celebrex had sales of $3.3 billion (Rs14,256 crore) in 2004, before advertising was halted. Sales fell to $1.7 billion a year later.
“There has been a lot of confusion in the marketplace with Celebrex and all the other NSAIDs,” a family of drugs that includes ibuprofen and naproxen, said Steve Romano, Pfizer’s vice president of global medical, in a 29 March interview. “This is going to take those risks head on.”
Pfizer, the world’s biggest drugmaker, said on 19 December, 2004 that it would stop advertising Celebrex to consumers after a study showed the drug more than doubled the risk of heart attacks at high doses.
The return to television comes after Pfizer resumed advertising in magazines in March, spending $36.3 million, according to media research firm Nielsen Monitor-Plus. Sales of the drug rebounded 18% last year to $2 billion.
The television ads will last for 2 1/2 minutes, almost an entire commercial break. Each commercial may cost more than $200,000 to air, said Angela Federici, vice president with Santa Monica, California-based Millward Brown, an advertising firm that researches and develops TV ads for drugmakers.
Pfizer’s TV campaign two years ago featured people doing yoga and a voice urging viewers to “celebrate Celebrex.” The latest ads only have drawings in them. They open with a women’s voice advising viewers that Celebrex, like other NSAIDS, may increase the risks of heart attack, stroke, and bleeding and ulcers in the stomach.
The voice then lists the drug’s benefits, including less indigestion, abdominal pain and nausea than prescription ibuprofen and naproxen. Celebrex also can be taken with low-dose aspirin, and one 200 milligram pill lasts 24 hours, the voice says.
‘Understand the Risks’
“Understand the risks,” the commercial says. “See the benefits.”
NSAIDs, or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, are a family of medicines that block enzymes in the body called Cox-1 and Cox-2 that are related to the swelling and inflammation caused by arthritis. Celebrex works differently than other NSAIDs by not blocking the Cox-1 enzyme, which protects the lining of the stomach.
Concerns about Celebrex risks arose in September 2004 when Vioxx, made by Whitehouse Station, New Jersey-based Merck, was withdrawn after studies found it caused heart complications. Pfizer’s similar Bextra was withdrawn in April 2005 when it was tied to a potentially fatal skin condition.
Pfizer didn’t pull Celebrex from the market because it said the drug’s benefits outweighed risks that could be addressed with warnings. In 2005, the FDA required that prescribing information for Celebrex and other NSAIDS carry the agency’s strictest warning.
Pfizer decided to revive the Celebrex ads after internal research showed 40% of consumers thought the drug is no longer in the market, Romano said. The company spent more than a year discussing the content of the ads with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, he said.
Pfizer’s emphasis on the risk is part of a trend among drugmakers to make commercials more informative, said Millward Brown’s Federici in a March 30 telephone interview.
By admitting to their risks upfront, drugmakers “dial up credibility among consumers,” Frederici said.