Abbott Laboratories has posted a net income rise of almost 35% for the first quarter to $937.9 million, driven by the staggering success of the firm’s anti-inflammatory blockbuster Humira.

Total sales rose 13.8% to $6.77 billion and pharmaceuticals were up 14.3% to $3.85 billion. The stellar performance came from Humira (adalimumab), which is approved for six indications in the USA, ranging from rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease and psoriasis.

Sales leapt 53.7% to $878 million, which included 69% growth outside the USA. Abbott said that Humira sales will top $4 billion this year and will be boosted by an approval which has just been granted by the Japanese regulatory authorities to market the drug there to treat rheumatoid arthritis. It will be sold in Japan in partnership with Eisai.

Of the firm’s other products, the migraine drug Depakote (divalproex sodium) increased 11.7% to $365 million and the HIV drug Kaletra (lopinavir/ritonavir) jumped 17.8% to $365 million. TriCor (fenofibrate) climbed 9.8% to $245 million and its other cholesterol drug Niaspan (niacin) brought in $176 million, up 24.2%.

Abbott chief executive Miles White said the first quarter had been a strong one for the firm, boosted by “five key new product approvals”, notably Humira in psoriasis and Simcor, a fixed-dose combination of Niaspan and simvastatin. He added that “the continued productivity of our late-stage pipeline, combined with the underlying strength of our broad mix of businesses, gives us a high level of confidence in our future growth outlook”.

That confidence is shared by Goldman Sachs which issued a share note, saying that “given the current economic environment, the consistent performance from Abbott should be given credit, suggesting share price upside potential from current levels".

Abbott reiterated its forecast of 2008 earnings of $3.20-$3.25 per share, excluding one-time items. This would represent an increase of at least 12.7% on net income last year.