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Merck

(MRK) - Get Merck & Co., Inc. Report

, the largest U.S. drugmaker, reported earnings that surpassed analyst expectations along with a 17% revenue gain due to a fast-growing arthritis medicine.

For the first quarter ended Mar. 31, net income for the Whitehouse Station, N.J.-based company rose 15% to $1.50 billion, or 63 cents a diluted share, from $1.30 billion, or 54 cents a share, a year earlier. The consensus estimate of analysts polled by

First Call/Thomson Financial

was 62 cents.

Revenue rose to $8.85 billion from $7.54 billion a year ago, led by arthritis treatment Vioxx and helped by cholesterol medication Zocor, osteoporosis drug Fosamax, asthma product Singulair and high blood pressure medication Cozaar and its companion agent Hyzaar. Together those drugs account for more than 50% of Merck's worldwide human health sales.

Merck is the second-largest drugmaker in the world behind

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Shares of Merck closed up 2 3/16, or 3%, at 71 15/16.