Merck, Schering swing to 4Q profit

Merck and Schering-Plough both reported surprisingly strong profits for the fourth quarter in spite of a steep decline in sales of Vytorin and Zetia, the cholesterol drugs they market together.

Merck posted $1.64 billion in profits, or 78 cents per share; that compares with a net loss of almost that much--$1.63 billion--during the same period last year. That's when Merck took a multibillion-dollar charge for its big Vioxx settlement. Without that charge and another restructuring charge posted this quarter, the drugmaker would have boosted EPS to 87 cents from 80 cents a year ago, the Wall Street Journal figures.

Schering reported net income of $480 million, or 27 cents per share. For the fourth quarter of last year, the company posted a $3.36 billion loss because of charges related to its buyout of Organon BioSciences. On an adjusted basis, earnings grew to 39 cents per share from 27 cents the same period a year ago.

Combined sales of Vytorin and Zetia fell off by 26 percent during the period, to $1.1 billion, despite a new government-sponsored study that found Zetia therapy delivered benefits against progression of cardiovascular disease. Meanwhile, sales of Merck's human papillomavirus vaccine fell by 16 percent, a trend the company hopes to reverse with new indications for the shot. Overall, Merck's sales dropped 3 percent to about $6 billion.

Schering, on the other hand, saw a 17 percent rise in net sales, to $4.35 billion, on its buyout of Organon. Among the individual drugs posting gains were anti-inflammatory Remicade (8 percent), allergy med Nasonex (3 percent), and cancer treatment Temodar (4 percent).

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