AbbVie Said to Fire Heart Sales Force as Generics Compete

AbbVie Inc., the drugmaker split off from Abbott Laboratories this year, will fire its sales force for heart drugs as the medicines lose patent protection and face generic competition, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The firings total in the mid-hundreds and are a mix of AbbVie employees and contract workers, said the person, who asked not to be identified because they weren’t authorized to speak about the issue.

AbbVie is shifting its focus from primary care, such as drugs that treat a patient’s cholesterol, stroke or diabetes, to so-called specialty medications in areas of unmet health needs, Chief Financial Officer William Chase said in January. With the cardiology drugs losing patent protection, the North Chicago, Illinois-based company no longer needs a large sales force to advertise them to doctors.

Chase in January called 2013 and 2014 “a time of transition for AbbVie, as our lipid franchise experiences the entry of generics.”

Among those drugs is TriCor, which began facing generic competition in November. TriCor, along with related medication Trilipix, generated $1.1 billion in U.S. sales for AbbVie last year, the company said. Niaspan, an extended-release version of a medicine to raise HDL or “good” cholesterol, also will face copycats this year. It sold $911 million for AbbVie in 2012.

Chase in January estimated that sales of the two drugs will fall by more than half this year.

Adelle Infante, an AbbVie spokeswoman, declined to comment on the firings. AbbVie shares rose 2.4 percent to $42.45 at the close in New York.

Generic Competition

“TriCor began facing generic competition in late 2012 and several other products in our cardiovascular franchise will lose patent exclusivity in 2013,” she said yesterday in an e-mail.

The company’s biggest product remains Humira, an injection to treat the inflammatory disease rheumatoid arthritis. The medicine sold $7.93 billion last year.

AbbVie’s experimental drug pipeline suffered a setback last year when its partner, Reata Pharmaceuticals Inc., discontinued development of a drug for chronic kidney disease. The company’s top candidate in late-stage testing is a treatment for the viral liver infection hepatitis C, which may compete with a product in development by Gilead Sciences Inc. This year, AbbVie suspended trials of an experimental leukemia and lymphoma medicine after two patients died.

AbbVie split from Abbott Laboratories on Jan. 1, leaving the parent company with the original business’s medical device, infant nutrition, generic drugs and diagnostics units. Since the split, AbbVie’s shares had gained 21 percent and Abbott Park, Illinois-based Abbott’s had increased 15 percent, as of yesterday’s close.