Merck KGaA has posted a reasonable set of financials for the fourth quarter, with earnings of its multiple sclerosis drug Rebif holding up well despite fierce competition from oral therapies.

Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, amortisation and one-off items inched up 0.7% to 795.2 million euros, above forecasts. Sales declined 2.8% to 2.64 billion euros, hit by negative foreign exchange effects of around 7%.

Despite solid organic growth of 3.9%, sales at the Merck Serono unit dipped 0.7% to 5.95 billion euros, also due to strong currency headwinds. Rebif (interferon beta-1a) was down just 1.5% to 1.86 billion euros, "despite more intense competition", while the colorectal/head and neck cancer drug Erbitux (cetuximab) was pretty flat at 882 million euros. Approval in Japan boosted sales of Erbitux which is also enjoying strong growth in the emerging markets. Sales of the fertility drug Gonal-f (follitropin) slipped 0.7% to 586 million euros.

Merck chairman Karl-Ludwig Kley was pleased with the performance, saying that "we lowered our costs faster than planned and drove the realignment of the group". He stated that "we expect to achieve slight organic growth in sales and constantly high earnings in 2014", adding that "Merck was never as profitable as it is today".