Merck KGaA has posted a strong set of figures for the first quarter this morning, which reveal that earnings more than tripled.

The Darmstadt-based group’s net income came in at 195 million euros, compared to 60 million euros in the like, year-earlier period, while revenues were up 13% to 2.01 billion euros. Turnover at its pharmaceutical division was up 6.5% to 1.51 billion euros and the Merck Serono unit contributed 1.41 billion euros (+7%).

Driving that growth were sales of the multiple sclerosis drug Rebif (interferon beta-1a) which rose 17% to 429 million euros, while the colorectal/head and neck cancer drug Erbitux (cetuximab) climbed 19% to 192 million euros. As for Merck’s other products, the beta blocker Concor (bisoprolol) franchise was down 2.1% to 97 million euros, while its Glucophage (metformin) diabetes products increased 9.7% to 81 million euros.

Merck’s thyroid treatments, notably Euthyrox (levothyroxine), contributed 39 million euros, up 8.3%. Sales of the fertility treatment Gonal-f (follitropin) increased 3.8% to 139 million euros and growth hormone Saizen (somatropin) rose 18% to 54 million euros.

Chairman Karl-Ludwig Kley said that “although we don’t expect 2010 will be easy, we did start the year off quite well, especially in our chemicals business”. The liquid crystals division did particularly well, with sales leaping 82% to 239 million euros.

Merck has raised its group operating profit guidance for the year and now expects 30%-40% growth compared to its previous guidance of 20%-30%. Despite the healthy results, the company’s shares were down 1.3% at 62.92 euros at 10.10am (UK time), due probably to profit-taking, though some analysts were disappointed that Merck gave no details about plans to refile its oral multiple sclerosis drug cladribine with regulators in the USA.