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Jan 2, 2014

Merck Axes 152 in Saphris Sales Force after Selling U.S. Rights

  • Merck & Co. has told Pennsylvania labor officials it will lay off all 152 sales representatives who had promoted Saphris® (asenapine), a month after the company sold U.S. marketing rights for the antipsychotic drug to Forest Laboratories for $240 million plus payments tied to sales-based milestones and ongoing supply.

    The 152 had been based in Upper Gwynedd, PA, in the Philadelphia suburb of Montgomery County. Layoffs will take effect February 3, according to a WARN Act notice the pharma giant filed with the Keystone State’s Department of Labor and Industry.

    Saphris, sold in Europe under the name Sycrest, is indicated for schizophrenia in adults, and for acute treatment of manic or mixed episodes associated with bipolar I disorder in adults, as monotherapy or as adjunctive therapy with either lithium or valproate.

    Saphris won FDA approval in 2009. During the third quarter, Merck recorded an intangible asset impairment charge of $330 million in materials and production costs related to Saphris—after lowering its sales forecasts for the drug during the second quarter “as a result of reduced expectations in international markets and in the United States,” according to its third-quarter 10-Q filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. At the time, Merck estimated the current fair value of the intangible asset related to Saphris at only about $170 million.

    During the first three quarters of 2013, Saphris generated $117 million in sales, down almost 5% from $123 million generated during the corresponding period in 2012. In announcing the selloff to Forest Labs, Merck trumpeted Saphris’ 12-month net sales of $150 million for the year ending September 30, 2013.

    Merck’s Saphris-related job cuts come three months after the company said October 1 it would eliminate 8,500 jobs over the next two years as part of a restructuring of R&D and commercial operations that the company says will save it $2.5 billion a year when fully implemented in 2015.

    Since providing that statement, Merck has not announced layoffs tied to the restructuring, but instead confirmed facility layoffs as they occurred: 500 jobs in West Point, PA, an unknown number in Puerto Rico, and all 570 employees who worked at a manufacturing plant in Swords, Ireland. Merck said November 29 it would idle the 570 Swords staffers over three years as its operations shift to Belgium, the Netherlands, and the United States.

    The 8,500 layoffs, on top of an earlier-announced reduction of 8,500 jobs, will shrink by some 20% the company’s global workforce of 81,000 people.



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