Things are changing in the pharmaceutical industry. Not so long ago, drugmakers could count on being able to churn out new products and charge higher prices. But those days appear to have passed.

Although productivity may be bouncing back -- the Food and Drug Administration approved 31 new drugs in 2004, up from 17 in 2002 and 21 in 2003 after hitting 53 in 1996 -- the pricing issue looks more vexing. With huge companies like General Motors (NYSE:GM) loudly complaining about drug costs and talking up health-care reform, pharmaceutical firms would do well to both produce more drugs and operate more efficiently.

Wyeth (NYSE:WYE), it seems, is doing just that. Reuters reported on Monday that the firm will make significant cuts in its sales force aimed at primary-care physicians, although the unspecified reduction will be much less than the 30% initially quoted in The Wall Street Journal. Even a smaller scaling back could bring significant savings, though. Pharmaceutical-sales organizations spend roughly $150,000 per primary-care representative, according to the analyst group Cutting Edge Information. Just a 15% cut, then, would yield annual savings of more than $56 million, based on Wyeth's current 2,500-member primary-care sales force.

The planned restructuring is not the first sign that Wyeth is adjusting to new circumstances. Back in 2003, the company agreed to outsource its clinical-data management to Accenture (NYSE:ACN) in an innovative deal designed to improve research productivity. That effort appears to be paying off: The FDA recently approved Wyeth's Tygacil, a new broad-spectrum antibiotic that is expected to generate at least $1 billion in annual sales.

Of course, Wyeth is not the only company in its sector making changes. Eli Lilly's (NYSE:LLY) new automated facility is another example of pharmaceutical firms' drive for efficiency. But Wyeth, with improving sales and a solid pipeline, remains the company to watch.

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Fool contributor Brian Gorman is a freelance writer in Chicago. He does not own shares of any companies mentioned in this article.