Roche adds primary care force

February 1, 1997
Pharmaceutical Representative

Roche Laboratories Inc., the Nutley, NJ-based pharmaceutical marketing and sales subsidiary of Hoffmann-La Roche Inc., was in the process of adding 525 new, full-time sales representatives at press time.

Roche Laboratories Inc., the Nutley, NJ-based pharmaceutical marketing and sales subsidiary of Hoffmann-La Roche Inc., was in the process of adding 525 new, full-time sales representatives at press time.

The company expected the hiring process to be completed by the end of January.

Roche cited recent successes and promising new drugs as the reason behind its sales force expansion.

"We are fortunate to have launched five new products in 1995 and have filed three major new drug applications that could be approved in the next year or two," said Steve Sudovar, senior vice president, pharmaceuticals.

Sudovar expects the FDA to approve two of the new drug applications this year. Posicor, an antihypertensive, could gain approval by mid-year, while Tasmar, a new treatment for Parkinson's disease, could receive clearance in October.

The third drug, Xenical, a treatment for obesity, probably will not be approved until 1998, he said.

Because Roche plans to promote these three products to the large primary care market, the company's current sales arsenal would be "spread too thin" without the help of a second sales force, Sudovar said.

"If a sales rep carries more than four or five products, he or she won't be able to do each product justice," he said.

Once the expansion is complete, Roche will have 1,700 salespeople organized in 20 business units across the country. The company will have two primary care sales forces and three specialty sales forces targeting the dermatology, HIV and transplantation markets.

Roche also maintains a sales force that calls on medical centers and a managed care accounts force.

Upsizing continues

Roche's sales force expansion adds more momentum to the industry trend toward "upsizing." Last year, major companies like Pfizer and Bristol-Myers Squibb added hundreds of salespeople to their rosters.

Roche's Sudovar said the industry is adding reps because companies are much more confident than they were a few years ago, when many firms cut the sizes of their sales forces. New products are the primary driver.

Downsizing an overreaction?

Downsizing "may have been an overreaction to managed care and its perceived influence on physician prescribing," Sudovar said. "But we feel that managed care has the opposite impact.

"While many people may have thought that reps would become dinosaurs in managed care, we think managed care is an additional audience that reps have to see.

Plus, we still need reps to present our products for pull-through prescribing. Physicians still write the prescriptions.

"Personal selling is a way to drive the product up the adoption curve, and reps are the primary medium we use to reach our customers."

The industry is also adding more reps because companies are developing new products for the large primary care audience, Sudovar said.

While many drug companies have been utilizing the services of contract sales organizations, Roche chose not to use a contract sales force because it didn't fit the company's needs, Sudovar said.

"Contract sales forces offer added flexibility when you only need salespeople for a particular period of time," Sudovar said. "They're also good if you have a specialty product in a market that your salespeople don't call on. But we expect to sustain our new products over a long period of time because they have long patent lives.

"We have confidence that we'll do well with the right firepower behind our drugs." PR