Germany’s Merck KGaA witnessed a sharp slump in second quarter pre-tax profits – down 35% to 322 million euros – but financials were somewhat skewed by a 293 million euro gain on the divestment of VWR International last year [[28/07/04c]].

Sales at the Darmstadt-based company rose almost 9% during the quarter to 1.5 billion euros, helped along by good performances from the company’s ethicals, generics and liquid crystals divisions. The pharmaceuticals business overall recorded a 16% rise in sales to 994 million euros, with the new anti-cancer agent, Erbitux (cetuximab), bringing in 52 million – up 22%. Merck markets the drug in the European Union under a deal with ImClone Systems, and it has now been approved in 39 countries in Merck’s territory, with Hong Kong, South Korea, Columbia and Israel joining the list during the second quarter.

The liquid crystals division rose 10% to 183 million euros, but saw a drop in the operating result – down 8% to 78 million euros – as the start-up phase of new production facilities takes longer than expected.

“Thanks to innovative products such as our cancer treatment Erbitux and liquid crystals, Merck’s profitability continues to rise,” said Bernhard Scheuble, Chairman of the Executive Board of Merck KGaA. “Excluding the gains from our strategic divestments, Merck’s profit after tax rose a very substantial 27%. Excluding divested units, Merck continues to expect Group sales to rise by a single-digit rate in 2005.”

For the full-year, Merck is expecting sales – excluding VWR International and electronic chemicals – should have a growth rate in the single-digit range.