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Schering-Plough Earnings Nearly Double

Adjusted earnings of 22 cents a share are well ahead of estimates.
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Earnings nearly doubled in



first quarter, as sales rose 8% and the company's input costs were little changed.

The drug giant earned $372 million, or 24 cents a share, in the quarter, compared with $127 million, or 7 cents a share, last year. Adjusted earnings of 22 cents a share were 8 cents better than expected. Sales rose to $2.55 billion from $2.37 billion, topping the $2.49 billion Thomson First Call consensus.

Schering's bottom line was aided by a 250 basis point improvement in gross margin to 65%, a gain that "stemmed primarily from product mix and supply chain efficiency improvements."

Sales of cholesterol drugs Vytorin and Zetia, which Schering-Plough sells via a joint venture with



, were brisk. Total sales of the two drugs through the joint venture were $778 million in the quarter, up from $505 million. Schering's equity interest in the sales was $311 million, up from $220 million a year ago.

"Three years after beginning our Action Agenda, Schering-Plough today is delivering a solid record of performance -- growing our business and moving ahead with the turnaround phase of our six- to eight-year plan," CEO Fred Hassan said.

"Our businesses are performing well across multiple fronts and geographic regions. We've driven top-line growth while exercising financial discipline and gaining greater efficiencies. These fundamentals have translated into significant bottom-line growth. We remain determined to become a high-performance competitor for the long term -- and over the past several quarters we have made steady progress toward that goal."