Merck Matches Estimates

Sales of the No. 3 drugmaker's arthritis blockbuster slowed in the third quarter.
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Merck

(MRK) - Get Report

said Thursday that third-quarter earnings rose 8% to 84cents a share, although the No. 3 drugmaker continues to struggle withsluggish sales of its lead arthritis drug, Vioxx.

Net income for the third quarter totaled $1.94 billion, or 84 cents pershare, compared to $1.84 billion, or 78 cents per share, in the year-agoquarter. This matched Wall Street consensus estimates, according to ThomsonFinancial/First Call.

But Merck warned Thursday that 2001 Vioxx sales would be lower thanpreviously expected. The drugmaker now expects sales in the range of$2.5 billion to $2.7 billion, compared to a previous estimate of around $3billion.

In the third quarter, Vioxx sales rose 29% to $795 million, compared tothe third quarter last year. That is quite a slowdown compared to the 53%sales growth racked up in the second quarter.

Vioxx sales have been hurting since this summer, when a well-publicizedarticle in the

Journal of the American Medical Association

called fora major study of so-called Cox-2 inhibitors because of evidence that thedrugs might increase the risk of heart attack and strokes. Sales ofCelebrex, another Cox-2 drug made by Pharmacia, have also been hit. Insurersand managed care companies have also been reluctant to pay for the expensivedrug, choosing instead to push cheaper generics.

Overall, Merck reported third-quarter net sales of $11.9 billion, anincrease of 13% over the third quarter last year. Human health sales, theterm Merck uses to describe prescription drug sales, rose 6% in the thirdquarter compared with last year.

Zocor, the company's top-selling cholesterol drug, posted third-quartersales of $1.7 billion, a 28% rise over the third quarter last year.

Merck shares closed Wednesday at $69.05.