Merck KGaA has posted a reasonable set of figures for the second quarter, driven by sales of its multiple sclerosis Rebif.

The Darmstadt, Germany-based group recorded a loss of 85.9 million euros, compared to net profits of 183.4 million euros in the like, year-earlier period, hit by an impairment loss of 161 million euros due to overcapacity at the Corsier-sur-Vevey production plant in Switzerland and costs associated with the acquisition of US laboratory equipment specialist Millipore.

However the latter, with sales of 584 million euros, contributed to a group revenue rise of 15.7% to 2.56 billion euros. Turnover at the Merck Serono drugs unit rose 2.0% to 1.48 billion euros, driven by Rebif (interferon beta-1a) which climbed 5.2% to 423 million euros. The colorectal/head and neck cancer drug Erbitux (cetuximab) slipped 3.0% to 204 million euros, hit by slower sales in Japan.

Improvements needed

Merck chairman Karl-Ludwig Kley noted that the series of one-time charges hurt this quarter’s profits, but adjusted for these, the figures show "we would be substantially above the year-ago level". However, the company says that "improvements are still needed, especially with respect to the quality of the pharmaceutical pipeline as well as internal processes and structures".

The company suffered a major blow when regulators on both sides of the Atlantic rejected its MS pill cladribine, and Merck has abandoned the project. Mr Kley added that "we are striving for leaner processes and we are reviewing our cost structures".

Merck has slightly lowered its full-year guidance and said it now expects revenues to be between 10-10.4 billion euros, down from a previous forecast for more than 10 billion euros.