Merck shifts reps, marketing dollars to emerging markets

The global restructuring of pharma sales continues. Case in point: Merck, which cut its sales force in developed markets by almost one-third last year, hired sales types in China, Brazil and Russia. Overall, the company's worldwide sales staff shrank by 12 percent from 2009 levels, CEO Kenneth Frazier (photo) told the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference.

"Our goal is to be as strong in emerging markets as we are globally," Frazier said, according to Bloomberg. "We're No. 2 globally, but No. 5 in emerging markets." Besides staffing up on the sales side in the developing world, Merck has also been forging alliances, such as its marketing-and-distribution partnership with South Africa's Adcock Ingram. Then there's its vaccines partnership with China's Sinopharm, which will start with Merck's human papillomavirus vaccines, but is expected to move on to other vaccines and possibly drugs.

As attested by the overall decline in global sales staff, Merck's marketing shift isn't just about moving resources from mature markets to emerging ones. Bloomberg points out that Merck is reducing the number of salespeople who visit doctors' offices. And as we've reported, the company is increasingly marketing to physicians online. The company spent more than $62 million on e-detailing in 2009, more than any other drugmaker during that time period.

- see the Bloomberg story