AstraZeneca has said it is to cut around 1,150 sales jobs in the US - accounting for almost a quarter of its American field force - as part of an ongoing cost-cutting programme.
"These are difficult decisions that impact valued employees. The changes we are making, however, will help us deliver better results for our business," commented Rich Fante, president of AstraZeneca US.
The company's cuts focus on "leadership and sales-representative positions" and are in addition to the 400 US job losses announced in October and the 8,000 set to go over the coming years as a result of a worldwide restructuring announced in January 2010.
Like many of its peers in the pharmaceutical sector, AstraZeneca is facing a patent cliff in the coming years, with generic competition looming for some top-earning products in the US, including blood pressure drug Atacand (candesartan cilexetil), schizophrenia drug Seroquel (quetiapine) and gastrointestinal treatment Nexium (esomeprazole).
Some products, including blood pressure drug Toprol XL/Seloken (metoprolol) and Arimidex (anastrozole) for breast cancer, are already being impacted by copycat drugs and the firm lost $350m in revenues to generic competition in the third quarter of this year alone.
However, its latest move also ties in with a well-established trend among pharma companies to reduce numbers of traditional sales reps, in response to a progressive decline in access to healthcare practitioners and a rise in the importance of other stakeholders such as managed care systems, pharmacy benefit managers, and physician consortia.
At the same time, industry-imposed compliance rules and regulatory scrutiny of sales and marketing practices have been driving a shift away a conventional detailing approach to sales - which requires considerable manpower - to one of key account management (KAM) and targeting of select prescribing decision makers.
The impact of the latest round of cuts at AstraZeneca will vary geographically and by selling teams, said the company, but employees will have the "option to self-identify to potentially leave the company".
Decisions on the staffing reductions will be completed by February 2012, and the costs of the latest round of restructuring will be in the $50m-$100m range, it added.