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Drugmaker Lilly plans cuts to US sales force

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Eli Lilly and Co. plans to cut hundreds of workers from its U.S. sales force as the drugmaker prepares to deal with the loss of patent protection for two more top-selling drugs.

Lilly spokesman Scott MacGregor declined to disclose the specific number of cuts, which will happen by July 1, but did say it totals less than 1,000 full-time employees.

Lilly, which is headquartered in Indianapolis, had about 17,150 U.S. employees at the end of last year and 38,350 total.

The company will lose U.S. patent protection for the antidepressant Cymbalta at the end of this year. The drug brought in $3.92 billion of Lilly's $11.81 billion in U.S. sales last year, but the Cymbalta total will shrink quickly once cheaper generic competition hits the market.

Former top-seller Zyprexa, an antipsychotic, lost U.S. patent protection in the fall of 2011, and its U.S. sales plunged 83 percent last year to $360.4 million.

Lilly also loses patent protection for the osteoporosis treatment Evista in 2014. Evista rang up $699.5 million in U.S. sales last year.

The drugmaker has said it expects to cut costs to help make up for the loss of revenue from these expirations.

MacGregor said in an email that Lilly's Bio-Medicines sales force, a category that includes neuroscience, cardiovascular and men's health, will become smaller and more aligned with both business realities and the way customers want to interact with the company.

Lilly also will expand its diabetes sales force to prepare for the planned launches of two treatments in late-stage development.

Company shares climbed 36 cents to $57.95 in Thursday afternoon trading.