Officials for Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, Merck and Schering-Plough on Thursday will testify at a House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee hearing that Democrats hope will "lay the groundwork for future legislation to tighten controls on drug marketing," the Wall Street Journal reports. According to the Journal, although Democrats last year "lost a fight over proposals to strengthen government regulations" of direct-to-consumer television advertisements for prescription drugs, recent concerns about ads for the cholesterol medications Vytorin and Lipitor and the anemia treatment Procrit have "given Democrats ... ammunition for a new battle" (Mundy, Wall Street Journal, 5/8).

The subcommittee will examine whether Merck and Schering-Plough in ads for Vytorin overstated the benefits of the medication, which a study released in January found no more effective than a treatment available in generic form in the prevention of accumulation of plaque on artery walls (AP/Boston Globe, 5/8). In addition, the subcommittee will examine the decision by Pfizer to feature Robert Jarvik, the inventor of the first artificial heart, in ads for Lipitor. The subcommittee earlier this year raised concerns that the ads could mislead the public because they portray Jarvik, who is not a licensed cardiologist, as a medical expert. The subcommittee also will examine the decision by J&J and subsidiary Ortho Biotech to continue to air ads that promoted Procrit as a treatment for fatigue -- a use for which FDA has not approved the medication -- despite repeated requests by the agency to revise the ads (Wall Street Journal, 5/8).

Witnesses from the American Medical Association, the Kaiser Family Foundation and other groups also will testify at the hearing (AP/Boston Globe, 5/8).