Merck KGaA has posted a decline in earnings for the third quarter, due in part to an increase in its R&D, but its lead products Rebif and Erbitux performed well.

The Darmstadt-based group’s operating profit declined 28.2% to 222.2 million euros (net income fell 47.7% to 108.5 million euros), as its R&D spend climbed 17% to 333 million euros. That rise is the result of a “historically high level” of late-stage clinical trials.

Group revenues rose 2.7% to 1.94 billion euros, while its Merck Serono unit contributed 1.31 billion euros, an increase of 5.8%. Driving that growth were sales of the multiple sclerosis drug Rebif (interferon beta-1a) which rose 13% to 381 million euros and the rise was especially strong in the USA, helped by higher prices.

The colorectal/head and neck cancer drug Erbitux (cetuximab) climbed 33% to 177 million euros. As for Merck’s other products, the beta blocker Concor (bisoprolol) franchise was down 7.3% to 103 million euros, while its Glucophage (metformin) diabetes products increased 4% to 77 million euros.

Sales of the fertility treatment Gonal-f (follitropin) increased 1.6% to 111 million euros, while Merck’s thyroid treatments, notably Euthyrox (levothyroxine), contributed 41 million euros, up 4.8%.

Chairman Karl-Ludwig Kley said that “we now can say with confidence that Merck will deliver what it promised earlier in the year.” The company is expecting a revenue rise for 2009 of 2%, helped by a recovery in sales from its liquid crystals unit.