It can’t get much worse for the beleaguered pharmaceutical business. Merck and Schering Plough, which have now suspended their annoying $100M-plus television consumer advertising campaign for Vytorin—the one that compares “aunts” and “uncles” to various foodstuffs—ran an ad today defending their cholesterol drug on page 15 of the Wall Street Journal.

They may be in line for a “make-good” because the placement was flat-out lousy. The Journal, on facing page 14, ran a piece called “Drug Companies Face Political, Scientific Attacks.”

That article provided a laundry list of drug industry woes, including the whopper about Merck and S-P reeling from a recent study that raised doubts about whether Vytorin is better than a cheaper generic pill. That’s a $5B question, the amount of the cholesterol treatment sales, for Merck and S-P.

Doctors and consumers apparently have made up their minds. U.S. prescriptions for Vytorin dropped nearly 10 percent for the week ended Jan. 18. The “Enhance” patient trial that questioned Vytorin’s effectiveness was released Jan. 14. Merck and SP stand behind the “established efficacy and safety profiles” of Vytorin, according to the WSJ ad.

The Vytorin controversy is just icing on a (low cholesterol) cake for those upset with the barrage of drug advertising, and the promotion of "quasi diseases" by big pharmaceutical houses. It’s a safe bet the Congress is going to step up efforts to regulate the marketing practices of prescription drugs.

Bart Stupak, chair of the Energy and Commerce investigations subcommittee told the WSJ that is sick and tired on seeing “puffing, advertising based on untrue facts or facts that can’t be substantiated, medical, ethically or legally.” Ouch.

Even the Rx industry’s trade group, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, is raising the white flag. Chief Billy Tauzin admits that some of the criticism of the industry is valid and needs to be addressed. He promises that the industry will consider major changes.

That’s a major concession from the once all-powerful PhRMA, but one that is grounded in the reality of the various pharmaceutical investigations on Capitol Hill and the prospects of a Democrat in the White House.