Abbott Laboratories has posted a 3% hike in first-quarter profit on the back of a good performance from flagship arthritis drug Humira, as well as healthy rises in international sales of its products which offset a hefty 23% decline in its US pharmaceuticals business.

Net income at the company rose to $865 million, although revenues overall fell nearly 4% to $5.18 billion, largely because of a change in terms of a drug distribution agreement with Boehringer Ingelheim which saw Abbott cease marketing of three of the German company’s lower-margin products, including the painkiller Mobic (meloxicam), but improved its margins. Otherwise sales would have risen 5% in the quarter.

Humira (adalimumab) had a great quarter, rising 39% to $392 million, while HIV/AIDS treatment Kaletra (lopinavir/ritonavir) and cholesterol-lowerer Tricor (fenofibrate) also made a strong contribution, rising 18% to $280 million and 20% to $205 million, respectively. But the fly in the ointment was blockbuster antibiotic Biaxin (clarithromycin), which plunged 30% to $249 million as a result of losing patent protection in the USA last year.

Next year’s results statement will be markedly different, as Abbott – already operating in drugs, nutrition and diagnostics - will expand further in medical devices via its $4 billion purchase of Guidant’s cardiovascular stent business, a consequence of the latter’s imminent acquisition by Boston Scientific.

That acquisition will give it a drug-coated stent, Xience V, that should launch in Europe this year and transform Abbott’s medical products business. This currently encompasses nutritionals, diabetes care and vascular closures and reported first-quarter sales of $1.27 billion, a double-digit rise over first-quarter 2005 helped by the launch of a new vascular sealing device.