A week after US regulators rejected the firm’s new combination treatment MK-0524A, Merck & Co has announced plans to cut 1,200 sales jobs in the country.

The move represents part of the New Jersey-based drugs giant’s previously-announced reorganisation project, ‘Plan to Win’ which was launched at the end of 2005 and has to date led to the elimination of 8,100 jobs. The latest cuts will “optimise our cost base and improve Merck's effectiveness”, said Kenneth Frazier, president of the firm’s Global Human Health unit.

He added that "with eight successful launches of Merck products approved in the USA since 2006 now behind us, and with an unexpected delay in a new product approval”, the company has decided to “accelerate the achievement of efficiencies we anticipate gaining as we transition to our new commercial model in the USA".

Mr Frazier was referring to the US Food and Drug Administration’s decision last week to issue a not approvable letter for MK-0524A (extended-release niacin/laropiprant) for the treatment of primary hypercholesterolemia or mixed dyslipidemia. The move has taken the firm and analysts by surprise, seeing as how European regulators recommended approval just days before for the drug. That decision came just a day after the FDA rejected a proposed fixed combination of Merck’s Singulair (montelukast) and Schering-Plough’s Claritin (loratadine) for the treatment of allergic rhinitis symptoms in patients who want relief from nasal congestion.

Merck said that the job cuts, which will be completed by the end of July, will not cause any disruption in its service to customers. It concluded by saying that its employees will be treated with “fairness and respect” as this “difficult but necessary action” is taken.

The latest round of cuts, combined with 400 sales jobs eliminated last year, will affect about 20% of Merck’s 8,500-strong field force in the USA.