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.

However, the cuts apparently won’t involve work done at Novartis’ huge vaccine production and research and development operation in Holly Springs. In December 2010 Novartis announced plans to expand the facility and to add 100 jobs. The operation is part of the Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics business unit.

The company said the cuts in its pharmaceuticals group will affect 1,630 sales positions in the field and 330 posts at its U.S. headquarters in New Jersey.

“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,” said David Epstein, division head of Novartis Pharmaceuticals, 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.”

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

Chief Executive Officer Joe Jimenez has been reducing costs since he took the job in February 2010. He has also been trying to boost sales from specialist-prescribed drugs, such as the multiple sclerosis pill Gilenya and the cancer drug Afinitor, to replace revenue from Diovan, which lost patent protection in Europe last year and will do so in the U.S. in September.

The combination of the job cuts and strategic shift “should increase confidence that margins in pharmaceuticals are sustainable even as Novartis goes through the Diovan patent expiry,” Karl Heinz Koch, an analyst at Helvea SA in Zurich, wrote in a note today. He recommends buying the shares.

Novartis said the 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 at 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.

(The AP and Bloomberg contributed to this report.)

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