AbbVie to hack hundreds of reps from cardiovascular sales ranks

AbbVie ($ABBV) has a new distinction. It may be the youngest pharma company ever to lay off hundreds of salespeople. Bloomberg reports that the drugmaker, spun off by Abbott Laboratories ($ABT) as of January 1, plans to jettison its cardiovascular salesforce, with layoffs in the "mid-hundreds."

The news follows word Friday that Eli Lilly ($LLY) would hack hundreds of people from its sales ranks. In both cases, patent losses are the impetus: TriCor, TriLipix and Niaspan in AbbVie's case, and Cymbalta in Lilly's.

AbbVie's TriCor franchise brought in about $1.6 billion in 2012 sales, just a bit over $1 billion of that in the U.S. TriCor faced its first generic competitors in November, and TriLipix could get copycat rivals in mid-2013. Niaspan's 2012 sales amounted to $976 million, and it loses exclusivity in November 2013. As Bloomberg notes, AbbVie CFO William Chase has said the company expects sales of both drugs to drop by more than half this year.

The AbbVie cuts will hit employees and contract salespeople, Bloomberg says, citing sources. Like other Big Pharma companies suffering from generic erosion to their branded drug sales, AbbVie is looking to expand in specialty drugs--which command higher prices and require smaller salesforces--as its primary-care products go generic.

And like its rivals, AbbVie is scaling back in marketing to account for that change. Pfizer ($PFE) was cutting its primary-care salesforce in December, a year after its cholesterol-fighting behemoth, Lipitor, reached the end of its patent life. Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY) has totted up hundreds of sales-related layoffs in the wake of generic competition for its blood thinner Plavix, whose sales dropped by 96% almost immediately.

Meanwhile, Denmark's Lundbeck announced 600 job cuts after its antidepressant Cipralex fell off patent last year, and Forest Laboratories took out its job-cutting ax for the same reason--and the same drug under another name, Lexapro. And late last month, AstraZeneca ($AZN) announced thousands of layoffs--5,050 total, 2,300 of them in sales and administration--partly because of patent losses, particularly on its blockbuster antipsychotic, Seroquel.

- see the Bloomberg story

Special Reports: Niaspan - Top 15 drug patent losses for 2013 | Top 10 Pharma Layoffs of 2012 | TriCor - 10 Largest U.S. Patent Losses