Germany’s Merck KGaA says that third-quarter net income leapt to 202 million euros from 36 million euros, helped by strong sales of the cancer drug Erbitux and the multiple sclerosis treatment Rebif.

Operating profit was up 6.1% to 309 million euros and group turnover climbed 8.7% to 1.89 billion euros. The Darmstadt-based group’s Merck Serono unit contributed 1.24 billion euros, an increase of 14%.

Driving that growth were sales of the multiple sclerosis drug Rebif (interferon beta-1a) which rose 10% to 338 million, while Erbitux (cetuximab) jumped 13% to 134 million euros. As for Merck’s other products, the beta blocker Cardicor/Concor (bisoprolol) was up 19% to 112 million euros, while its Glucophage (metformin) diabetes products increased 10% to 74 million euros.

The fertility treatment Gonal F (follitropin) was up 11% to 109 million euros, while the thyroid treatment Euthyrox (levothyroxine) contributed 39 million euros, up 16%. Sales of Raptiva (efalizumab), for the treatment of moderate-to-severe psoriasis, rose 19% to 23 million euros, while Merck’s recombinant growth hormone family, including Saizen and Serostim (both somatropin), rose 7.5% to 58 million euros.

Merck chairman Karl-Ludwig Kley said the firm is doing well, “despite the current global financial turmoil and the negative impact of currency exchange rates”. He added that “we believe these good results affirm the soundness of our diversified business model”, though the company’s liquid crystals unit suffered a 12% reverse in sales to 239 million euros, due to negative currency impact.

Dr Kley concluded by noting that “we expect to meet our guidance for 2008 and, with less than three months left in the year, we are able to narrow the range of our expectations”. Merck now expects total revenues to increase in a range between 6%-8% (originally 5%-9%).