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Novartis Drug Company To Cut Almost 2,000 Jobs

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GENEVA — Drug maker Novartis will cut 1,960 jobs in the United States this year in anticipation of lower sales for two of its hypertension drugs, the Swiss company said Friday.

Basel-based pharmaceutical giant Novartis AG said the cuts will affect 1,630 sales positions in the field and 330 posts at its U.S. headquarters in New Jersey.

The restructuring was necessary because of the expiration of its patent for the best-selling hypertension drug Diovan and the failure of a clinical study into another hypertension drug, Tekturna, Novartis said.

"We recognize that the next two years will be challenging in the Pharmaceuticals Division and we are proactively making these changes to further focus our pipeline on the best opportunities and align our market position on our growth brands," the head of Novartis' pharmaceuticals division, David Epstein, said in a statement. "These are difficult but necessary decisions that will free up resources to invest in the future of our business which we view as well suited to bring new valuable therapies to patients and payors."

In 2010 the company eliminated 1,400 U.S. sales jobs, followed by 900 U.S. development posts last October.

Novartis said the latest job cuts would save $450 million a year from 2013 after an initial charge of $160 million, to be booked in the first quarter of 2012.

Diovan contributed $1.43 billion to Novartis' net pharmaceutical sales of $8.16 billion in the third quarter. Its patent expiry is likely to markedly increase competition from generic products.

Meanwhile, Novartis said a reassessment of the future sales potential of Tekturna, which is known as Rasilez outside of the U.S., will result in an exceptional charge of $900 million in the fourth quarter. The company said last month it had terminated a trial into the expanded use of Tekturna after it was found to cause increase complications in patients already taking other common hypertension drugs.

Two other experimental drugs will also be dropped, leading to one-off charges of $160 million in the fourth quarter, Novartis said.

In its statement, Novartis made no mention of a recent announcement that it was recalling several over-the-counter drugs in the United States following reports of a possible mix-up with powerful prescription pain medications at a Nebraska manufacturing plant.

Novartis shares closed 0.7 percent lower at 53.00 Swiss francs ($55.59) on the Zurich exchange Friday.

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