Sanofi-Aventis has decided to cut the size of its workforce in France by 500 – with the loss of around 400 sales jobs and 100 administrative positions – in a bid to reduce operating costs and boost competitiveness.

The company blamed recent efforts by the French government to tighten-up regulatory measures for the move, saying that this had resulted in “a sizeable loss of business” that is likely to continue “in future years.”

Neither Sanofi’s manufacturing nor its R&D operations are affected by the downsizing, and the cuts represent just 2% of the company’s French workforce.

Earlier this month, Christian Lajoux, president of the French pharmaceutical industry organisation LEEM, forecast job cuts at drug companies as a result of government moves to impose new price cuts.

The latest proposed measure is for the cuts to be imposed on the basis of entire therapeutic categories - on groups of drugs which work in the same or similar ways to treat conditions. Once the patent expires on a drug in a particular category, and so paves the way for a generic competitor, the Economic Committee for Healthcare Products (CEPS) can decide to reduce the price of other drugs in the same class, even if these are still patent protected.

The French government has been working hard to reduce spending on health provision, with a target of clawing back 350 million euros in savings in 2006 alone. Price cuts are one measure it had adopted, along with the removal of products from reimbursement lists and cutting the authorised margins on drugs prescribed by hospital staff to out-patients.