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Higher Drug Sales Boost Merck

The company benefits from fairly easy year-ago comparisons.
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Merck

(MRK) - Get Report

said first-quarter earnings rose on the strength of an 18% jump in pharmaceutical sales, as its anticholesterol and high-blood pressure blockbusters continued to sell well. Last year's quarter was hurt by a number of patent expirations and resulting generic competition.

The Whitehouse Station, N.J.-based pharmaceuticals giant said it earned $1.71 billion, or 76 cents a share, in the latest quarter, up from $1.63 billion, or 71 cents a share, a year ago. Overall sales rose 10% to $13.39 billion. The latest quarter's earnings were in line with analysts' estimates.

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Merck said that among its six biggest drugs, sales rose a collective 19%. That includes anticholesterol drug Zocor, where sales totaled $1.2 billion in the first quarter; osteoporosis treatment Fosamax, where sales totaled $812 million; high-blood pressure drugs Cozaar and Hyzaar, where sales totaled $643 million; asthma medication Singulair, where sales totaled $474 million; and pain reliever Vioxx, where sales totaled $527 million.

Merck said it remains comfortable with previously issued guidance for earnings of $3.40 to $3.47 a share, a better-than-10% increase from 2002. The company also affirmed guidance for the major drugs listed above.

Separately, Merck said it's still planning to sell pharmacy benefits manager Medco to the public in mid-2003, as long as market conditions warrant. The company has delayed the planned initial public offering several times due to a weak market.