Strong performances from products old and new have helped Merck & Co post a 3% rise in revenues for the fourth quarter to $6.24 billion, but charges related to its Vioxx settlement have resulted in a net loss for the period of $1.63 billion, or $0.75 per share, compared to net profits of $473.9 million in the like, year-earlier period.

The New Jersey-based drugmaker said that it has taken a $4.85 billion charge to settle lawsuits related to the painkiller Vioxx (rofecoxib) lawsuits, but excluding this and another charge plus restructuring costs, net income would have been $0.80 per share, a rise of 60% and way ahead of analysts forecasts.

Merck’s biggest seller continues to be the asthma drug Singulair (montelukast), the number one prescribed respiratory drug in the USA, which added $1.2 billion to the firm’s coffers (up 20%), while its cholesterol-lowering franchise headed by Vytorin (ezetimibe plus simvastatin) and Zetia (ezetimibe) soared. Zetia sales reached $679 million, an increase of 27%, and Vytorin rose 40% to $776 million.

However it may be a while before the drugs, which are co-marketed with Schering-Plough, achieve such strong sales. Vytorin has become mired in controversy since the results of the ENHANCE trial were finally released a couple of weeks ago following a good deal of speculation over possible data manipulation and a U-turn on the study’s primary endpoint. The results showed that Vytorin was no more effective at slowing the progression of atherosclerosis than simvastatin (the now genericised Zocor) alone.

A number of bodies are queuing up to take Merck and S-P to task over its business practices concerning Vytorin, including the US Congress and the New York and Connecticut Attorney Generals. Merck added that it has become aware of or been served with some 50 civil class action lawsuits alleging common law and state consumer fraud claims in connection with the sale and promotion of the products.

On a brighter note, revenues from the anti-hypertensives, Cozaar (losartan) and Hyzaar (losartan plus hydrochlorothiazide), were up 3% at $891 million, while osteoporosis drug Fosamax (alendronate) sneaked up 1% to $796 million. However that figure is sure to slide soon as Fosamax loses patent protection in the USA in February.

Merck’s new drugs are on the up, with diabetes drug Januvia (sitagliptin) generating $252 million for the quarter, while Janumet (sitagliptin plus metformin) brought in $44 million. More impressive were sales of the cervical cancer vaccine Gardasil which reached $329 million and topped $1.3 billion for the full year.

Chief executive Richard Clark said that the firm’s performance in 2007 “shows that the customer-focused, more efficient business model we began implementing more than two years ago is working".