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Merck Posts Higher Profit, Raises Forecast for 2007

Merck said Monday that quarterly earnings rose 12% on strong demand for its newer vaccines and medicines, and raised its 2007 profit forecast, sending its shares up 4%.

Second-quarter net income rose to $1.68 billion, or 77 cents per share, from $1.5 billion, or 69 cents per share, a year earlier.

The latest results include the impact of setting aside another $210 million for legal fees associated with litigation involving the company's Vioxx arthritis drug.

Merck is facing about 27,000 lawsuits among people who claim to have been harmed by the widely used pill, which was withdrawn in 2004 after being linked to heart attacks.

Excluding special items, Merck earned 82 cents per share in the quarter. On that basis, the analysts' average forecast was 72 cents, according to Reuters Estimates.

Merck said it expected full-year earnings per share, excluding special items, of $3 to $3.10, which translates into growth of 19% to 23% over last year. It had previously forecast $2.75 to $2.85.

Company sales rose 6% to $6.11 billion, about $300 million more than Wall Street had expected, despite plunging sales of Merck's Zocor cholesterol fighter, which is now facing competition from cheaper generics.

Sales of allergy and asthma drug Singulair rose 15% to $1.1 billion, while revenue from blood-pressure drugs Cozaar and Hyzaar rose 8% to $847 million.

Januvia, a new and fast-growing oral diabetes drug that works by a different mechanism than rival medicines, had sales of $144 million in the second quarter.

Total vaccine sales almost tripled to $1 billion, including $358 million for Gardasil, the first vaccine to prevent cervical cancer.

Sales for Merck's Fosamax osteoporosis medicines slipped 4% to $786 million.

Merck shares rose to $51 in premarket trade from Friday's New York Stock Exchange close of $49.02.

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