Updated from 7:18 a.m. EDT

Schering-Plough ( SGP) said earnings more than doubled in the third quarter, and the company's CEO proclaimed "the beginning of the turnaround" at the drugmaker.

Schering-Plough earned $65 million, or 3 cents a share, in the quarter, compared with $26 million, or 1 cent a share, a year ago. The latest quarter included items that netted to a charge of 5 cents a share, before which Schering's operating earnings of 6 cents a share were 2 cents ahead of forecasts.

Sales rose 15% from a year ago to $2.28 billion, about $10 million above the Thomson First Call consensus.

"We have now registered our fourth consecutive quarter of strong sales growth and our third consecutive quarter of higher earnings, excluding special items," said CEO Fred Hassan, who took the reins in spring of 2003. Hassan, whose tenure has coincided with a 31% rise in Schering-Plough's stock price, said the company is now in the third of five phases -- the "turnaround phase" -- of the corporate blueprint he enacted when coming aboard.

The current phase follows initiatives to stabilize and repair the company and will comprise actions to strengthen infrastructure, systems and business practices, Hassan said.

Much of Schering-Plough's financial improvement reflected strong sales of Vytorin and Zetia cholesterol drugs, which are sold via a joint venture with Merck ( MRK). The company said its share of the drugs' income totaled $215 million in the quarter, up from $95 million a year ago.

Overall pharmaceuticals sales rose 18% from a year ago to $1.84 billion.

The stock was down 0.4% to $21.03 in recent trading.

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