Pfizer sharpens job-cutting ax for U.S. sales layoffs

Pfizer's ($PFE) U.S. sales reps are updating their résumés. The company's primary care sales force faces another round of job cuts, numbers as yet unspecified. The laid-off reps--to be notified Dec. 20, Dow Jones reports--will join thousands of previous patent-cliff casualties.

With Lipitor a shadow of its former self, and primary care drugs less important to Pfizer's future, the cutbacks may not be a big surprise, strategically. But the pharma industry's shift to a post-patent cliff reality has been painful for the many reps, scientists, manufacturing workers and others left behind. As Dow Jones points out, Pfizer has axed 50,000 jobs since 2005--during a period when it actually bought and absorbed its fellow Big Pharma company, Wyeth.

News of the latest sales layoffs emerged exactly one year after Lipitor, the biggest-selling drug of all time, went off patent. Pfizer's newer drugs have been more specialized--Xalkori, a drug for lung cancers with specific genetic traits, for instance--and so they're promoted mostly to specialists. Primary-care physician shortage notwithstanding, there are still far more first-line doctors than specialists. Fewer doctors, fewer sales reps needed to reach them.

"[W]e are making changes in some segments of our field force to better match the future needs of the business," Pfizer spokesman MacKay Jimeson told Dow Jones.

How many more jobs will join that 50,000-layoff tally? Pharmalot sources say 10% to 20% of the primary care team, but Jimeson didn't provide job-cut numbers. Nor would he specify how many reps make up the U.S. primary care sales force, Pharmalot reports.

Other drugmakers have slashed their sales-force numbers in recent years, with primary care sales bearing the brunt in many cases. Pfizer itself just announced 300 job cuts in Canada, with sales and marketing taking the biggest hits.

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