Pfizer Drops Celebrex Ads Amid Controversy

NEW YORK Drug maker Pfizer said Sunday it would immediately stop advertising its best-selling arthritis pain reliever Celebrex to consumers after a study showed high doses of it were associated with an increased heart attack risk.

New York-based Pfizer spent more than $70 million advertising Celebrex to U.S. consumers in the first nine months of this year.

Publicis Groupe’s Kaplan Thaler Group here handles ads for the brand. The agency’s first work for Celebrex broke in October. It included a 60-second animated TV spot that showed an animated tennis-playing character hitting the ball and then immediately grabbing his sore, reddened elbow. A voiceover explains that Celebrex is for the “nagging joint pain and stiffness of osteoarthritis,” and also warned about some possible side effects.

The move covers television, radio, newspaper and magazine advertising, Pfizer representative Mariann Caprino said.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which said Friday it was considering warning labels for Celebrex or withdrawing the drug from the U.S. market, agreed with Pfizer’s decision to halt advertising.

“We discussed it with the FDA, and we all concurred that it was the appropriate step,” Caprino told The New York Times.

Pfizer officials did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

Pfizer said it plans to keep Celebrex on the market and will continue marketing the drug to doctors.

Celebrex has not been shown to be dangerous to arthritis patients when taken at normal doses, Pfizer said. The heart attack risk in the study disclosed Friday occurred when patients took the drug at two to four times the usual dose for many months.

Sales of Celebrex and a related drug, Bextra, had been expected to total more than $4 billion worldwide in 2004, nearly 10 percent of Pfizer’s revenue.

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