In addition to confirming its own full-year financials for 2006 published in January, Germany’s Merck KGaA has revealed that profits soared at recently-acquired Serono in the fourth-quarter on strong sales of the multiple sclerosis treatment Rebif.

Net income at the new Merck Serono unit was $195.7 million, up 35.8% on the like, year-earlier period, while revenues were up 10.4% to $739.2 million.

For the full year, Rebif (interferon beta-1a) sales were up 14% to $1.45 billion, and up 26% in the USA to $493 million, despite increasing competition in the market for MS drugs, while revenues from Raptiva (efalizumab), Serono's psoriasis drug, more than doubled to $70 million in 2006. Sales of growth hormone Saizen (somatropin) sneaked up 1.2% to $209 million for the year.

Elmar Schnee, chief executive of Merck Serono, said that the record sales for the fourth quarter “demonstrate that our employees have kept their focus on delivering results during this period of transition.” They certainly offer comfort to Merck which said that it expects profit to rise at a “comfortable double- digit” rate. That excludes its generics unit, which Merck hopes to divest by the summer.

The USA’s Mylan Laboratories is the latest firm thought to be interested in getting hold of Merck’s generics business, joining the likes of Iceland's Actavis and the Indian drugmakers Ranbaxy and Dr Reddy’s. Few would be surprised if Israel’s Teva or Novartis' Sandoz unit made a bid for the division, which is expected to go under the hammer for around 4 billion euros.