Germany’s Merck KGaA says that full-year 2004 net profits more than trebled to 972 million euros, versus 2003 [[16/02/04b]], as sales of its new colorectal cancer treatment, Erbutix (cetuximab), far exceeded expectations in what the company deemed the “best year in [its] history.”

The firm’s total sales for the year rose by just under 7% to 5.3 billion euros, with all divisions reporting increases. Sales in the pharmaceuticals division rose 5% for the year to 3.5 billion euros, including strong contributions from the company’s ethical, generics and consumer healthcare units. In its first year on the market, Erbitux far exceeded the firm’s expectations and recorded sales of 77 million euros. Erbitux won its first marketing approval, for treatment of advanced colorectal cancer, in Switzerland in December 2003 [[02/12/03a]]. European marketing authorisation followed last summer [[01/07/04a]], and by the end of 2004, Merck says that the drug had been launched in 18 European Union countries plus Iceland, Norway, Mexico, Argentina and Chile. Merck’s partners ImClone Systems and Bristol-Myers Squibb market the product in the USA.

For the coming year, Merck says it is optimistic about Erbitiux’ continued potential, with launched expected to take place in the remaining EU countries as soon as process are agreed. The firm expects to file for additional approval of Erbitux for the treatment of head and neck cancer in the EU and Switzerland in the middle of the year, and notes that Phase III studies are underway for first- and second-line treatment of colorectal, non-small cell lung, and head and neck cancers. Overall, the company is expecting all its pharmaceutical and chemicals businesses to perform well during 2005, but did not provide definitive guidance. It added that it would continue to expand these core businesses both internally and though acquisitions.