Third-quarter profits fell at

Merck &Co.

(MRK) - Get Report

, as the drug makercontinues to be hurt by slowing drug sales.

The Whitehouse Station, N.J.-based pharmaceuticalgiant said third-quarter net income fell 3% to $1.88billion, or 83 cents per share, compared to net incomeof $1.95 billion, or 84 cents per share, in theyear-ago quarter. Earnings matched Wall Street'sconsensus estimates, as compiled by ThomsonFinancial/First Call.

Total revenue in the third quarter rose 8% to$12.9 billion. Sales in the company's corepharmaceuticals business were flat with last year,although Merck's five biggest drugs, combined, grewsales by 8%.

Sales for another six drugs in Merck's roster,including the ulcer drug Pepcid and the cholesterolfighter Mevacor, were hurt by competition from genericdrugs. Merck, like many other drug companies, is beinghurt by looming patent expirations of theirbiggest-selling products, coupled with a dearth ofreplacement products coming out of its research labs.

Sales of Vioxx, the company's arthritis drug andsecond-largest product, rose just 3% to $755 millionin the third quarter. The drug has been hurt bymedical evidence that it slightly raises the risk ofheart attacks.

Merck's largest-selling drug, thecholesterol-lowering Zocor, posted third-quarter salesof $1.5 billion, up 9% from the year-ago quarter.

The company reaffirmed 2002 guidance of flatearnings compared to last year, or $3.14 per share.Merck also said its core drug business will resumedouble-digit growth in 2003.

Merck shares were down 1% to $50.19 in recenttrading.