Merck to Lay Off About 1,800 U.S. Sales Reps in Cost-Cutting Move

By Peter Loftus Features Dow Jones Newswires

Merck & Co. said Friday it is laying off about 1,800 U.S. sales representatives, or nearly 7% of the drugmaker's U.S. workforce, in a reorganization the company says will cut costs and shift focus to products with growth potential.

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Merck is eliminating three sales teams comprising reps who promote drugs to primary-care doctors, endocrinologists and drugs used in hospitals.

At the same time, Merck said it would create a new "chronic care" sales team of 960 reps who will promote its top-selling drug, diabetes treatment Januvia, plus insomnia medication Belsomra and drugs for respiratory diseases and women's health. Merck also hopes to begin selling two new diabetes drugs if regulators approve them.

Employees being laid off can apply for the new sales positions or other open jobs at Merck, said spokeswoman Claire Gillespie.

Merck said the changes are "part of ongoing companywide efforts to sharpen Merck's focus on innovative R&D that addresses significant unmet medical needs and on our best opportunities for growth, while reducing overall costs."

The layoffs are the latest in a series of job cuts by the pharmaceutical industry, as companies grapple with patent expirations that expose top drugs to competition from cheaper generics. Merck has recently faced new generic competition for the anti-cholesterol drugs Vytorin and Zetia.

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In 2013, Merck said it would cut its workforce by 20% by the end of 2015, to save about $2.5 billion in annual operating expenses.

Merck has about 69,000 employees globally, including about 26,500 in the U.S.

Last month, Eli Lilly & Co. said it planned to eliminate about 3,500 positions, or 8% of its global workforce, through a mix of early-retirement offers and layoffs.

Write to Peter Loftus at peter.loftus@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

October 20, 2017 17:08 ET (21:08 GMT)