Revamping Marketing Efforts, Merck Eliminates Three Sales Teams

The tide is out for 1,800 Merck sales reps who call on the likes of primary care physicians but they could be among the 960 new members of a chronic care sales team being established to promote the diabetes drug Januvia, the insomnia medicine Belsomra and other products on the rise. 

The layoffs represent “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,” Peter Loftus reports for the Wall Street Journal. The sales teams calling on endocrinologists and drugs used in hospitals will also be axed while the new team will also peddle products for respiratory conditions and women's health and, if they are approved by regulators, two diabetes medicines in its late-stage pipeline: ertufligozin and insulin glargine.



“This is part of ongoing prioritization efforts and the ebb and flow of our business means that at the same time we're eliminating certain U.S. jobs, we're also adding new U.S. jobs in growth areas,” the company said in a statement emailed to media outlets on Friday. “These changes are part of ongoing company-wide 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.”

All told, the Kenilworth, N.J.-based company has about 69,000 employees worldwide. 

“The action will not have an impact on Merck's campus in West Point, Pa., where the company has more than 9,000 employees — about 3,000 of whom work in research and another 3,000 in manufacturing,” reports John George for the Philadelphia Business Journal.

Merck has faced some challenges lately.

“Earlier this month, Merck said it would not seek regulatory approval for once-promising cholesterol drug anacetrapib after disappointing trial results,” Deena Beasley reports for Reuters. “Last month, the drugmaker discontinued developing an experimental drug combination for chronic hepatitis C, as competition rises and patient population shrinks. The company has previously written off an earlier hepatitis C program.”

But it’s not alone. 

“With the move, Merck joins the ranks of top pharma companies to undergo large-scale layoffs this year such as Eli Lilly, which in September announced 3,500 cuts, and beleaguered Teva, which is in the process of scaling down manufacturing and laying off 7,000 employees,” Eric Sagonowsky points out for Fierce Pharma.

The industry itself is under fire in the wake of a “60 Minutes” and Washington Postinvestigation that aired earlier this month that led to Rep. Tom Marino (R.-Penn.) to withdraw his name from consideration to be the next head of the Drug Enforcement Agency.

Marino was the co-sponsor a bill that, according to the Post story, “effectively stripped the [DEA] of its most potent weapon against large drug companies suspected of spilling prescription narcotics onto the nation’s streets.”

Scott Higham and Lenny Bernstein continue: “A handful of members of Congress, allied with the nation’s major drug distributors, prevailed upon the DEA and the Justice Department to agree to a more industry-friendly law, undermining efforts to stanch the flow of pain pills. … The DEA had opposed the effort for years.”

The fallout from those revelations continue.

“In the 1990s some opioid makers saw gold in them thar hills and started aggressively marketing opioids, such as Purdue Pharma’s Oxycontin, as a general remedy for pain. Endo Pharmaceuticals and Johnson & Johnson joined in to peddle their opioids for wide use,” Jim Jones, a former attorney general of Idaho and former chief justice of the state’s Supreme Court, wrote yesterday for

“Advertisements in reputable medical journals hyped the use of opioid products as safe and effective pain relievers. Pharmaceutical companies reached into continuing education courses for doctors and medical school curricula to promote the widespread use of opioids. Attractive drug representatives assured doctors there was no need to be concerned that patients would become addicted to opioids. Lobbyists were employed to smooth the way for marketing these addictive painkillers without regulatory interference,” Jones continues.

And then the distributors cited in the investigation by the Post and “60 Minutes” got into the act. Jones, a former Republican who claims no party affiliation today, is calling for criminal prosecution of “corporate drug pushers.”

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