updated 11/29/2006 9:56:15 AM ET 2006-11-29T14:56:15

Pfizer Inc. said Tuesday it will cut its U.S. sales force by 20 percent, or 2,200 people, as part of a cost-cutting program to transform the company into a more nimble organization as it struggles with sluggish sales.

The drug company has 11,000 sales representatives, and the cuts will be made by the end of the year, according to company spokesman Paul Fitzhenry. He couldn't say how much the cuts would save the company or if it would take any kind of an earnings charge because of the move.

In October, Pfizer said it would slash costs beyond the program announced last year, designed to cut $4 billion in expenses by 2008.

At the time, Chief Jeff Kindler said there would be no sacred cows in the reorganization. But Pfizer's sales force was always considered one of its greatest strengths, so some observers didn't think it would be on the chopping block.

Pfizer has lost patents on numerous drugs recently, including blockbuster antidepressant Zoloft. Other drugs, like blood pressure medicine Norvasc, are slated for generic competition in 2007. Pfizer said in October that sales would be flat for the next two years after previously predicting moderate growth.

With this background, some analysts insisted cutting the sales force makes sense.

"This is something Pfizer should have done a long time ago," said Jason Napodano, an analyst at Zacks Independent Research. "It is a good thing. It shows Kindler is doing something."

Kindler became CEO over the summer, replacing Hank McKinnell who remains chairman. Pfizer said there will be additional announcements about its long-term outlook and actions for revitalizing the company in January.

Pfizer said its sales force cuts won't effect its ability to market its major products including cholesterol-lowering drug Lipitor as well as new drugs such as cancer treatment Sutent. Fitzhenry said the cuts would affect sales representatives as well as management and support staff.

On Thursday, Pfizer is hosting an analyst meeting to highlight its pipeline of new drugs. The star is Torcetrapib, a cholesterol treatment. But a recent study showed it raises patients' blood pressure, raising fears about its future and leaving analysts wondering what other products Pfizer has to bolster future sales.

"What are they (Pfizer) going to do about research and development and improving productivity? That is what I want to know," said Barbara Ryan, an analyst at Deutsche Bank.

Shares of Pfizer rose 8 cents to close at $27.05 on the New York Stock Exchange. In after-hours trading it rose 14 cents to $27.19.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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