Abbott Laboratories has posted a net income rise of 27.7% for the fourth quarter to $1.54 billion, driven by the continuing success of the firm’s anti-inflammatory blockbuster Humira.

Total sales rose 10.1% to $7.95 billion and pharmaceuticals were up 9.8% to $4.61 billion, dominated by the stellar performance came from Humira (adalimumab), which is approved for six indications in the USA, ranging from rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease to psoriasis. Sales of the treatment leapt 41.6% to $1.35 billion.

As for Abbott’s lipids franchise, TriCor (fenofibrate) and the recently-approved TriLipix (fenofibric acid) contributed $455 million, up 16.0%, while Niaspan (niacin) brought in $221 million, a rise of 23.8%. Of the firm’s other products, sales of Depakote (divalproex sodium) for manic episodes, migraines and several types of epileptic disorders, were battered by generic competition and fell 41.8% to $268 million. Revenues from the HIV drug Kaletra (lopinavir/ritonavir) inched up 1.8% to $378 million.

Abbott chief executive Miles White said 2008 “was another highly productive and successful year” and “we significantly outperformed our original growth expectations for the year and added to our diverse portfolio with a significant number of major new product launches’. He added that given “the strategic actions we've taken and our ongoing business momentum position Abbott to deliver continued double-digit growth in 2009".

Abbott’s diversification strategy seems to be paying off and fourth-quarter sales at its nutritional unit were up 11.0% to $1.32 billion, while diagnostics rose 4.4% to $896 million. On a conference call, Mr White hinted that the company is looking at further deals, despite having recently agreed to acquire ophthalmic firm Advanced Medical Optics in a transaction valued at $2.8 billion.

He said that it is “a good time to be a buyer, ” adding that “my priority is nonpharma, but I’m not going to pass up an attractive pharmaceutical deal if I see one”. Mr White also noted that Abbott is unlikely to splash out huge sums, saying that “at a time like this, our investors want to know if they can rely on us to deliver the earnings per share we forecasted”.

For 2009, Abbott reaffirmed its EPS forecast of $3.65-$3.70 and analysts were impressed. Morgan Stanley issued a research note, saying that the company should continue to do well throughout the year, thanks to strong demand for Abbott's stents, notably Xience, Humira and its lipids.