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China has more pharma sales reps than US for first time

Reflects increasing industry focus on emerging markets

China now has more pharma sales reps than the US for the first time in a further sign of the market's continued prominence for the pharmaceutical industry.

Sales force levels in China increased by 17 per cent to 80,000 in the 12 months to March 2012, while equivalent positions in the US fell by 8 per cent to 72,000, according to an audit from analysts Cegedim Strategic Data.

Although the US still leads in the number of sales reps relative to population, with China having a population of 1.35bn compared to the 313m inhabitants of the US. Nevertheless, the figures reflect an increasing industry trend to switch focus from traditionally strong markets that have faced major patent expiries and budget constraints during the economic crisis to growing economies.

“Sales force growth here reflects the huge potential that the industry sees for this market,” said Delphine Perridy, managing director of CSD China.

“Having covered the major cities, companies are now focusing expansion efforts on more hospital types and lower tier cities.”

Companies fuelling this growth in China include GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), which announced a planned recruitment drive for sales reps in China in March, 2012, as well as signally its openness to potential acquisitions in the country.

This contrasts sharply with the position in the US where a number of companies are dramatically cutting back on their field force numbers.

AstraZeneca (AZ) will shed around 1,150 jobs as part of its ongoing cost-cutting efforts, Novartis intends to lay off 1,630 sales force staff by 2013 to cope with the loss of patent protection for its blood pressure drug Diovan and Abbott is also cutting positions.

The US-China shift in sales rep numbers fits into a wider trend in global pharma marketing budgets. According to another Cegedim report earlier this year, even though the industry's worldwide spending on sales and marketing fell by 3.4 per cent during 2011, countries like China, Brazil and India all managed to see increased investment from pharma.

23rd May 2012

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