J&J, Pfizer in tug-of-war over ads for Infants' Advil

Back in 1989, a court order limited advertising claims for Advil, now owned by Pfizer ($PFE). But does that order extend to Infants' Advil, which didn't exist at the time? Rival Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) says yes--and it's forced Pfizer to pull one of its ads for that very reason.

At issue is Pfizer's claim that Advil for children has a "comparable incidence of digestive system adverse events overall" to acetaminophen--the active ingredient in Infants' Tylenol, made by J&J's McNeil unit. While Pfizer yanked the ad--which appeared in several medical journals--in response to a cease-and-desist letter, it hit back this week with a lawsuit, The Wall Street Journal reports.

"Physicians and consumers are being deprived of useful, truthful advertising information that would permit them to make informed decisions about the best fever and pain relief treatment options available for their pediatric patients," Pfizer said in the suit.

It all goes back a quarter-century ago, to a battle between J&J and Advil Maker American Home Products, which eventually changed its name to Wyeth before being bought out by Pfizer in 2009, the WSJ explains. The two were fighting in court over false advertising claims for the adult versions of Tylenol and Advil. A court's order restricted the claims the companies could make going forward--including the drugs' effects on the gastrointestinal system.

Now, J&J is trying to extend that order to rein in ads for pediatric forms of Advil, which, as Pfizer points out, didn't score FDA approval for OTC use until 1996. "McNeil is improperly attempting to expand the scope of the 1989 order to block advertising of Infants' Advil or other ibuprofen products for use in pediatric populations," it said in the suit. "No court has ever determined that the claims in the Infants' Advil ad are false."

J&J, of course, sees things differently, and it will have to hope the court does as well. Its McNeil unit could use a boost as it continues to recover from the consent decree it signed in 2011 with the FDA over manufacturing troubles. OTC sales grew 7% in 2013, up from the 1.1% dip they took the year prior.

- read the WSJ story 
- see the lawsuit (PDF)

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