Updated from 12:51 p.m. EDT

Earnings beats and positive news out of Amgen ( AMGN) were supporting the health care sector Thursday, even as the major markets were sliding.

Amgen said Thursday that its Aranesp anemia drug was not contributing to the deaths of patients in a Phase III lung cancer trial. The biotech giant added $2.31, or 3.6%, to $62.32.

Gilead Sciences ( GILD) reported a 55% jump in first-quarter earnings from a year ago, topping Wall Street's consensus forecast. Gilead was higher by $3.28, or 4.2%, at $81.71.

Both Amgen and Gilead are components of the Amex Biotechnology Index, but their gains merely buoyed the index's gain of 0.7%.

Among others reporting earnings, Dow Jones Industrial Average component Merck ( MRK) posted first-quarter earnings that were in line with estimates. Meanwhile, Schering-Plough ( SGP) topped estimates.

The Amex Pharmaceutical Index, of which both are components, was higher by 0.9%.

Among other winners, Monogram Biosciences ( MGRM) soared 9.5% to $2.08. Arena Pharmaceuticals ( ARNA), which posted a widening first-quarter loss that was still better than the Thomson First Call average estimate, was higher by 7.9% at $12.25. St. Jude Medical ( STJ) rose 5.5% after raising its full-year outlook.

Decliners included UnitedHealth ( UNH), which beat estimates and guided in line for the second quarter and full year. Despite the positive news, the stock lost $2.16, or 4%, to $52.05.

If you liked this article you might like

Paradigm Opportunity Protects Investors in Tough Times

5 Things You Need to Know Before the Stock Market Opens (Correct)

U.S. Investors Brace for a Third Bailout in Greece

5 Things You Need to Know Before the Stock Market Opens

40 Hedge Funds' Best Stocks Show the Way for 2012 (Update 1)