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Merck Shares Gain as Earnings Top Estimates

MerckMonday reported better-than-expected quarterly earnings as sales of cholesterol fighter Vytorin grew despite its failure to cut artery plaque in a controversial study, and other Merck drugs posted strong sales.

CNBC.com

Merck shares rose 2.5 percent in premarket trading.

The company said it earned $3.3 billion, or $1.52 per share, compared with $1.7 billion, or 78 cents per share, in the year-earlier period.

Excluding special items, Merck earned 89 cents per share. Analysts on average expected 86 cents per share, according to Reuters Estimates.

The items included $2.2 billion received from AstraZeneca as a result of a complex arrangement reached in February between the two partners, under which Merck will keep its rights to certain AstraZeneca medicines.

Merck said global sales rose 1 percent to $5.82 billion, but would have fallen 3 percent if not for the weak dollar, which raises the value of overseas sales when converted back to U.S. currency.

Vytorin combines Merck's older Zocor treatment with a medicine called Zetia that prevents the intestines from absorbing cholesterol. The combination drug and Zetia are sold through a 50/50 joint venture of Merck and Schering-Plough .

Combined sales of Vytorin and Zetia grew 6 percent in the quarter to $1.2 billion.

Global sales of asthma treatment Singulair jumped 10 percent to $1.1 billion, while blood pressure treatment Cozaar rose 6 percent to $847 million.

Januvia, a new diabetes pill, had quarterly sales of $272 million -- putting it on track to become a blockbuster product -- compared with $87 million in the year-ago period.

But sales of osteoporosis treatment Fosamax, plunged 37 percent to $470 million, as most formulations of the medicine began facing generic competition in the lucrative U.S. market.

Sales of company vaccines rose 9 percent to $986 million, reflecting a slowdown in earlier sizzling growth for Gardasil, Merck's product to prevent infection with forms of the virus that cause cervical cancer.

Merck also said it continues to expect 2008 earnings, excluding items, of $3.28 to $3.38 per share.

Merck shares were trading at $40.75 in premarket activity, from Friday's close of $39.76 on the New York Stock Exchange.

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