Schering, Merck halt TV ads for two drugs
Merck & Co. and Schering-Plough Corp. suspended television ads Tuesday for the cholesterol pills Vytorin and Zetia after a study questioned the benefit of the medicines.
The Vytorin commercials were among the most widely aired drug ads, featuring people dressed as food items to show the pill lowers cholesterol from food as well as from genetics. The ads were voluntarily and temporarily halted, Schering-Plough spokesman Lee Davies said.
The firms released data last week showing that Vytorin, a combination of Merck’s Zocor and Schering’s Zetia, worked no better at reducing the buildup of plaque in the artery leading to the brain than just Zocor, available as a generic. Vytorin and Zetia were prescribed 100,000 times a day on average, with more than $200 million spent last year to reach consumers. Doctors say the drugs were over prescribed because of the heavy marketing.
“The direct-to-patient advertising has fostered the acceptance of this combination therapy without truly a lot of medical backing that would support these drugs,” said Mark Turco, director of the center for cardiovascular research at Washington Adventist Hospital in Maryland. “Marketing is key, and the company has done a great job at marketing.”
Prescriptions for Vytorin have fallen 12% and for Zetia have declined 15% since the results of the study, called Enhance, were released Jan. 14, according to a research report Tuesday by Goldman Sachs Group Inc.
New ads for the drugs began running over the weekend in newspapers, including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Star-Ledger in New Jersey, Davies said. The two-page ad is in the form of a letter from Schering’s chief medical officer and Merck’s vice president of external medical and scientific affairs and says the companies stand by the drugs’ health benefit.
There have been no changes to the companies’ magazine ad campaign since the release of the study, Davies said. He declined to say when the television ads would resume.
Lawmakers are probing whether Schering and Merck acted improperly in their marketing for Vytorin and Zetia.