Merck KGaA has posted a strong set of figures for the fourth quarter, with sales and earnings topping analyst estimates.

The Darmstadt, Germany-based group’s net income came in at 46.5 million euros, down 18.1%  as a result of costs associated with the acquisition last year of US laboratory equipment specialist Millipore. However the latter deal contributed to a group revenue rise of 25.5% to 2.56 billion euros. 

Turnover at the Merck Serono unit rose 7.9% to 1.50 billion euros, and full-year revenues there came in at 5.75 billion euros, up 7.9%. The rise in 2010 was driven by sales of the multiple sclerosis drug Rebif (interferon beta-1a) which climbed 8.6% to 1.67 billion euros. The colorectal/head and neck cancer drug Erbitux (cetuximab) increased 18.0% to 820 million euros, while its Glucophage (metformin) diabetes products rose 8.4% to 316 million euros, although the beta blocker Concor (bisoprolol) franchise was down 5.3% to 373 million euros.

Merck’s thyroid treatments, notably Euthyrox (levothyroxine), were up 7.6% to 170 million euros, while sales of the fertility drug Gonal-f (follitropin) increased 3.7% to 504 million euros. The growth hormone Saizen (somatropin) rose 18% to 226 million euros.

Sales at Merck's consumer health division in the fourth quarter dipped 5.2% to 126 million euros, while liquid crystals revenues jumped 17% to 235 million euros.  

Merck chairman Karl-Ludwig Kley said 2010 was a transformational year with the acquisition of Millipore and the figures "exceeded expectations and raised our revenue and profitability profiles". He added that with Millipore included for the full year, 2011 revenues will grow 13%-18% and the operating result will rise by 35%-45%.

Merck Serono revenues are scheduled to rise 5%-10%, though this guidance is dependent on getting approval in the USA for the multiple sclerosis pill cladribine. A European filing for the latter was withdrawn at the end of last week.

If the US Food and Drug Administration decides not to give the green light to cladribine, Merck Serono's revenue is expected to rise 1%-6% in 2011. The company hopes to hear from the agency in the next week.