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Merck's Profit Jumps 62%; Drug Maker Raises Outlook

Merck Monday reported a better-than-expected profit, helped by sales of its vaccines and cholesterol drugs, and raised its 2007 profit forecast in view of strong current trends.

"Our third-quarter results reflect the continued progress Merck is making to deliver on our strategy," chief executive officer Richard Clarke said in a statement.

The company said it earned $1.53 billion, or 70 cents per share, compared with $941 million, or 43 cents per share, in the year-ago period when it took $598 million charge for legal expenses related to its withdrawn Vioxx arthritis drug.

Excluding restructuring charges, Merck earned 75 cents per share, ahead of the 69 cents per share expected on average by analysts, according to Reuters Estimates.

Sales of the cholesterol drugs Zetia and Vytorin, which the company sells in a joint venture with Schering-Plough , rose 26 percent to $1.3 billion.

Schering-Plough said on Monday its third-quarter earnings more than doubled, powered by higher sales of the cholesterol drugs and non-operating items, but profit and sales came in below Wall Street's target.

Merck's vaccine sales more than doubled to $1.2 billion.

Gardasil, Merck's cervical cancer vaccine, posted sales of $418 million.

Sales of allergy and asthma treatment Singulair rose 17 percent to $1 billion.

Merck projected 2007 earnings per share of $3.08 to $3.14, excluding the restructuring charges related to site closures and position eliminations. It previously forecast $3 to $3.10 per share.

Merck shares rose 19 cents to $53.30 in early electronic trading from a Friday close of $53.11 on the New York Stock Exchange.

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