PHARMACY

Merck to reduce sales force by 1,200

BY Drew Buono

WHITEHOUSE STATION, N.J. Merck has announced plans to cut the size of its sale force by 1,200 positions this month after failing to win regulatory approval for a new heart drug, according to published reports.

The sales representatives, who work in locations across the U.S., will be notified through the end of the month, and the cuts are expected to be completed by July, the company said. The cuts will impact employees who sell Merck’s vaccines as well as primary care medicines, which include treatments for high cholesterol.

Kenneth Frazier, president of global human health, said the job cuts were part of the company’s ongoing efforts to reduce operating costs. “With eight successful launches of products since 2006 behind us and with an unexpected delay in a new product approval, we decided to accelerate the achievement of efficiencies,” he said.

In 2005, the drug maker initiated a massive restructuring effort to reduce operating expenses by as much as $5 billion. The restructuring effort included reducing its workforce by 7,000, a number the company has already exceeded.

The company would not say how many of the latest job cuts were a direct result of the surprise failure of Cordaptive, a new cholesterol-lowering drug, to win marketing approval from the FDA.

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Wal-Mart’s $4 generic program expanded again

BY Mike Troy

BENTONVILLE, Ark. Wal-Mart’s $4 generic drug program was expanded on Monday to include new elements such as a 90-day, $10 option, several new women’s medicines and 1,000 nonprescription medicines priced at $4 or less.

This is the third time the program has been expanded since it was introduced in the fall of 2006. Since then, Wal-Mart contends, it has saved customers more than $1.1 billion and up to 95 percent of the prescriptions written in the majority of therapeutic categories now are included in the $4 prescription program. In addition, customers now can purchase a 90-day supply of 350 medicines for $10, a change Wal-Mart said gives customers an additional choice and saves them time and money.

Other changes include the addition of medicines such as a generic version of the osteoporosis drug Fosamax for $9 for a 30-day supply or $24 for a 90-day supply. In addition, medications to treat breast cancer (tamoxifen), menopause and hormone deficiency were added to the list of $9 medicines, a pricing tier that was added to the program in September 2007.

The other notable change to the program involved the inclusion of branded and private-label nonprescription drugs. More than 1,000 products, roughly one-third of the OTC drugs available at Wal-Mart and Neighborhood Market stores are available for $4.

“We’re succeeding in our efforts to deliver simple, affordable, quality pharmacy solutions for families struggling with the rising costs of health care,” said John Agwunobi, president of Wal-Mart’s health and wellness division.

Wal-Mart has promoted the $4 program extensively since its introduction via television commercials, print ads and signage throughout its stores to encourage customers to visit the pharmacy. In addition, the $4 program is frequently held up by Wal-Mart senior executives as an example of the retailer’s marketing slogan adopted last summer to help customers save money so they can live better.

Click here for the full list of discounted drugs.

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IDSA agrees to re-examine chronic Lyme disease guidelines

BY Drew Buono

HARTFORD, Conn. The Infectious Diseases Society of America has agreed to review its guidelines, which say there’s no evidence long-term antibiotics can cure “chronic” Lyme disease—or even that such a condition exists, according to the Washington Post.

The agreement, announced Thursday, calls for the doctors group to form a new panel of experts to review standards for treating Lyme disease. The IDSA says it agreed to the deal in part because the panel must be made up of doctors and scientists.

Lyme disease can be hard to diagnose with its vague, flu-like symptoms; the most obvious sign is its trademark round red rash. Usually, it’s easily cured with a few weeks of antibiotics. Those not promptly treated can develop arthritis, meningitis and other serious illnesses.

The IDSA says it’s never been proven whether these patients still have Lyme disease or something else. The group continues to defend its standards, which say short-term antibiotics are effective for nearly all patients. Long-term antibiotics are unproven and potentially dangerous, because overuse of the drugs can lead to drug-resistant infections, the society says.

“We are confident that our guidelines for the diagnosis and treatment of Lyme disease represent the best advice that medicine currently has to offer … and we look forward to the opportunity to put to rest any questions about them,” said Donald Poretz, the society’s president.

The society will consider a variety of scientific evidence and determine whether the 2006 guidelines are justified or need revision.

The guidelines are important because they discourage adequate treatment, advocates of chronic Lyme sufferers say. Perhaps just as significant is that insurance companies refuse to pay for long-term antibiotics to treat chronic Lyme disease because they follow the panel’s guidelines.

The doctors group makes clear that current guidance for treating Lyme disease remains in place.

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