Merck KGaA has posted a net loss for the fourth-quarter, hit by a decrease in demand for its liquid crystals and exceptional items.

The Darmstadt-based group has recorded a loss for the quarter of 279.5 million euroscompared with income of 3.39 billion euros in the like, year-earlier period, though the latter figure was boosted by the sale of its generics business to Mylan.

Some 195 million euros of that was due to “sharply lower sales expectations” for Raptiva (efalizumab), the psoriasis drug partnered with Genentech which has been linked to the recent deaths of two patients who developed the rare brain infection progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy. Merck also wrote off 42 million euros for its former subsidiary Lexigen following “the termination of relevant research” and took a a 26 million euro charge relating to a sales force restructuring in Europe.

Group revenues were up 5.4% to 1.90 billion euros Merck Serono unit contributed 1.33 billion euros, an increase of 16%. Driving that growth were sales of the multiple sclerosis drug Rebif (interferon beta-1a) which rose 14% to 360 million euros, while the oncology agent Erbitux (cetuximab) were up 11% to 141 million euros. As for Merck’s other products, on a full-year 2008 basis, the beta blocker Cardicor/Concor (bisoprolol) was up 14% to 433 million euros, while its Glucophage (metformin) diabetes products increased 9% to 290 million euros.

Annual sales of the fertility treatment Gonal F (follitropin) were up 5.9% to 460 million euros, while the thyroid treatment Euthyrox (levothyroxine) contributed 129 million euros, up 12%. Sales of Raptiva actually rose 22% to 93 million euros.

Chairman Karll-Ludwig Kley said that “in spite of the recession that is gripping the global business community”, Merck met its guidance for 2008 but for 2009, the company is not making any predictions. The firm said that “the complexity and interdependencies of the global financial and real economies is without precedent” and these special circumstances make it impossible for Merck to give any
quantitative forecasts, or even qualitative statements concerning trends, for 2009”.