NEW YORK (CNNfn) - Drug maker Merck & Co. reported a 15 percent increase in first-quarter profit Monday, led by strong growth of its new painkiller Vioxx, as the company narrowly exceeded Wall Street's earnings forecasts.|
The Whitehouse Station, N.J.-based company earned $1.5 billion, or 63 cents per diluted share, during the January-March period. That was 1 cent above the 62-cent analysts' consensus estimate compiled by tracker First Call. A year earlier, the company earned $1.3 billion, or 54 cents per diluted share.
Shares of Merck (MRK: Research, Estimates), a Dow industrials component, edged up 1-3/16, or 2 percent, to 70-15/16 in late-morning trading Monday. Of the Dow components to report results for the most recent period, all but Philip Morris Cos. (MO: Research, Estimates) have beaten estimates; the tobacco and food conglomerate matched Wall Street's forecasts.
Revenue rose 17 percent to $8.9 billion.
Merck said Vioxx and four other drugs -- cholesterol-lowering treatment Zocor, Fosamax, asthma treatment Singulair and blood-pressure medication Cozaar/Hyzaar -- accounted for half of its sales increase during the period.
Quarterly sales of Vioxx totaled $370 million. The drug, introduced last May to treat arthritis and acute pain, competes with Pharmacia Corp.'s (PHA: Research, Estimates) Celebrex, the first painkiller in the so-called "Cox-2 inhibitor" category to go on the market. Celebrex netted about $1.5 billion in sales last year. The potent drugs are considered easier on the stomach than traditional painkillers such as aspirin and ibuprofin.
Sales of Zocor rose 19 percent to $1.2 billion despite competition from
Warner-Lambert Co.'s newer and more popular drug, Lipitor.
However, sales of AIDS drug Crixivan, a protease inhibitor, slipped 7 percent from a year ago to $140 million. Sales of several of the company's older drugs also lost ground as hypertension drug Vasotec fell 20 percent to $470 million, cholesterol fighter Mevacor dropped 36 percent to $125 million, and sales of ulcer drug Pepcid sank 21 percent to $205 million.
Merck, currently the No. 1 U.S. pharmaceutical company, is set to be knocked to the second spot after the merger of Pfizer Inc. (PFE: Research, Estimates) and Warner-Lambert (WLA: Research, Estimates). That deal is expected to close next month. Despite the growing consolidation in the drug industry, Merck has said it plans to remain independent.
-- from staff and wire reports