Novartis lays off 200 primary care reps as it preps for megablockbuster LCZ696 rollout

Even a megablockbuster launch isn't enough to save Novartis ($NVS) sales reps targeted for job cuts. The company is laying off 200 primary care sales folks in New Jersey as it rejigs its sales operation and prepares to launch LCZ696, a hotly anticipated heart failure drug.

Novartis pharma chief David Epstein

Novartis is creating a new cardiovascular commando unit, staffing it mostly with employees who'd been working in its primary-care field force, the company said in a statement. That new CV field force will be handling the company's "most exciting launch" ever, in the words of Novartis pharma chief David Epstein, assuming LCZ696 wins FDA approval. Armed with some unprecedented data in heart failure, the drug is poised to soar to blockbuster sales, analysts figure, with some estimates putting peak sales above $6 billion.

But the new CV unit won't need quite as many people on the ground, even with the big rollout coming. Specialists will be prescribing LCZ696, so it won't need the same level of sales support as a drug handled by primary-care doctors. "[O]ur anticipated needs in heart failure do not line up exactly with our previous needs in primary care so some positions are being eliminated," spokeswoman Julie Masow said in an emailed statement.

The company is laying off 200 workers and cutting some vacant positions to reduce its roster by 243 jobs. The employees who'll lose their jobs have already been notified. They'll receive severance pay and outplacement services, and can apply for other jobs elsewhere in Novartis, the company said.

The Swiss drugmaker has been restructuring to focus on its strengths and bail out of weaker businesses, selling off some units while building up others via M&A. In October, the company's U.S. operation scrapped its previous sales structure to create three disease-based units, including one focused on cardiovascular and respiratory products. The new CV field force is part of that unit.

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