Merck Profit Beats Estimates As Sales of New Drugs Jump

Pharmaceutical giant Merck said quarterly earnings rose as booming sales of newer medicines offset declines in older products, and said it plans to seek U.S. approval in 2009 for a migraine-headache treatment now entering late-stage trials.

Merck, which on April 12 preannounced the quarterly earnings trends, posted first-quarter net earnings of $1.7 billion, or 78 cents a share, compared with $1.52 billion, or 69 cents a share, a year earlier.

Merck earned 84 cents a share excluding restructuring charges, matching its forecast of last week.

Company sales rose 7% to $5.8 billion, fueled by surging revenue from its newer cholesterol fighters Zetia and Vytorin, new vaccines and the new Januvia diabetes treatment, as well as from strong sales growth of asthma drug Singulair and treatments for high blood pressure.

Merck said its migraine drug MK-0974, a so-called calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) antagonist, is now entering Phase III trials. Data from mid-stage trials of the product will be unveiled at a medical meeting in June, the drugmaker said.

Combined sales of Vytorin and Zetia, which are marketed in partnership with Schering-Plough , grew 47% to $1.2 billion. Singulair sales jumped 25 percent to $1 billion, while combined sales of hypertension drugs Cozaar and Hyzaar rose 14 percent to $798 million. Januvia, a pill introduced in October, posted quarterly sales of $87 million.

Total sales of vaccines -- including Gardasil to prevent cervical cancer and Rotateq to protect against rotavirus infections in young children -- more than tripled to $903 million.