750 Merck reps cut loose this year

Wonder why the line at the unemployment office is so long? It's full of newly cut pharma reps, that's why. Merck has axed some 750 sales folks so far this year. Some got the news earlier this year, but others were notified just yesterday, a Merck spokesperson told Dow Jones.

The cuts are part of a previously announced cost-cutting program that will affect some 7,200 jobs companywide by 2011. The cuts are designed to carve $3.8 billion to $4.2 billion out of Merck's cost structure through 2013.

Putting this in perspective, the 750 laid-off reps amount to about a 12 percent reduction in Merck's U.S. sales force, which will stand at about 5,600 after the terminations are wrapped up. As for the 7,200 jobs to be eliminated companywide, that's about 13 percent of Merck's 55,000-strong workforce.

And of course Merck isn't alone in cutting sales reps loose. After building up large sales teams in the 1990s, pharma has been cutting those ranks down to size, especially over the last six months. Thousands of reps have found themselves jobless, including sales folks at Pfizer, Sanofi-Aventis, Schering-Plough and more.

- read the Dow Jones story at CNN Money