Wyeth Cuts Sales Force, Doctor Visits

Wyeth (WYE) Monday said it has begun eliminating part of its U.S. sales force in order to cut costs and end the drug maker's long-standing practice of "redundant" sales calls to primary-care doctors.

Wyeth declined to say how many job cuts there will be among its 2,500 U.S. sales representatives who now visit primary-care doctors, other than to say they will be significant. Nor would the Madison, N.J.-based company say how much it will save.

Wyeth is the latest among large U.S. drugmakers to make major job cuts as the industry attempts to deal with slowing earnings growth, generic competition and the threat of government price controls on its medicines.

Large drug makers for years have boosted sales by dispatching to the same doctor multiple sales representative with identical sales pitches about products in much the same way that television ads inundate viewers with their messages.

But Wyeth spokesman Doug Petkus said his company is cutting back on repeat visits to the same general practitioners and internists because of the costs and also the growing unwillingness of busy doctors to endure so many sales calls.

"The marketplace has changed and frequent visits are not well received any more," Petkus said. "So we hope to provide greater value by making fewer doctor visits, but ones that will provide more in-depth information about our products."

Wyeth has 5,000 U.S. sales representatives, half of whom visit primary care doctors with pitches for such drugs as anti-depressant Effexor (search), Protinix (search) for ulcers and Premarin (search) to prevent osteoporosis and treat symptoms of menopause.

Petkus said the company has already begun a pilot program in which it will cut the number of primary-care sales representatives by a "significant" percentage, in part by making some permanent sales people part-time employees.

He said the magnitude of the job cuts will be "far less" than the 30 percent reductions estimated in an article in Monday's Wall Street Journal.

"We're rolling out these changes now, and they will begin in earnest in the third quarter," Petkus said. He said the company should have a fairly clear idea of their effectiveness by the end of the year.

Pfizer Inc. (PFE), the world's largest drug maker, has previously said it plans to lessen its own redundant sales visits to primary-care doctors. But it plans to do so without sharply cutting back its U.S. sales force of over 10,000.

Shares of Wyeth edged up 11 cents to $44.23 in afternoon trade on the New York Stock Exchange.