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Pfizer Said to Fire 20% of U.S. Primary-Care Sales Force

Pfizer Inc., the company that lost its patent a year ago on the top-selling drug Lipitor, is firing almost 20 percent of its roughly 3,000-person sales force for primary-care drugs, said a person familiar with the matter.

The cuts, about 600 positions, are to begin this month and are part of the New York-based company’s continuing effort to lower costs, said the person, who asked not to be named because they weren’t authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

Pfizer has been cutting expenses under Chief Executive Officer Ian Read as it seeks to reposition itself after the loss of Lipitor, the cholesterol-lowering medicine that generated $9.6 billion in revenue in 2011. Read has said he’s refocusing the company to bring new drugs to market as it continues to integrate a decade’s worth of acquisitions.

“As part of our strategy to allocate our resources, investments and people to the areas that best serve our patients and customers, we continually evaluate how we can be more efficient and effective,” Mackay Jimeson, a Pfizer spokesman, wrote in an e-mail. “As a result, we are making changes in some segments of our field force to better match the future needs of the business.”

Pfizer rose 1.1 percent to $25.64 at 4 p.m. New York time. The stock is up 18 percent since the start of the year.

Primary-care drugs make up Pfizer’s top-selling products, and include the erectile dysfunction pill Viagra, pain therapy Lyrica and the arthritis treatment Celebrex.

Pfizer had 103,700 employees at the end of 2011, according to corporate filings. The company may hire more workers this spring, assuming the U.S. approval and sales start of its experimental blood thinner Eliquis, according to the person. Pfizer is developing Eliquis with Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. The two companies will split sales.

Before the firings, Pfizer had about 3,000 primary-care salespeople and managers, according to PharmaForce International, which tracks drugmaker sales forces and provides market intelligence.

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