Germany’s Merck KGaA saw its fourth-quarter 2005 profit jump 34% to 109 million euros ($129 million) after a strong performance from the anticancer drug Erbitux (cetuximab), which reaped 65 million euros for the three-month period and 218 million euros over the course of the year. However, for the full year, net profit remained flat at 659 million euros, as the company saw the effects of a 267 million-euro exceptional gain in 2004 from the sale of VWR International.

Sales jumped almost 10% for the year to 5.9 billion euros, helped by its ethicals business and a healthy showing from its liquid crystals unit, and the fourth quarter put in a particularly pleasing performance with revenues soaring 15% to 1.5 billion euros.

However, while the firm’s operating result for the year put in an impressive 17% leap to 883 million euros, it declined 1.6% in the fourth quarter as Merck ploughed more money into marketing Erbitux ahead of a decision on approvability in the expanded use of head and neck cancer by the European Medicines Agency, which is expected in the near future.

In December, Merck received its first approval from the Swiss regulators for this indication. In addition, the group says it has just completed recruitment of 2,800 patients into three Phase III clinical trials of Erbitux in several cancer types, including the second-line treatment of advanced colon cancer, the first-line treatment of recurrent and/or squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck and the first-line treatment of non-small cell lung cancer.

With this expanded clearance of Erbitux waiting in the wings, Merck says it expects sales of the drug to “continue to grow.” And, although it concedes its generics division could face a tough year because of stiff competition, it says its other five divisions should perform about 2005 levels. For 2006, it envisages sales and post-tax profits to increase by high single digits excluding exceptional items.