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

The Darmstadt, Germany-based group recorded a 7.5% rise in net profits to 226.6 million euros, helped by a 56% reduction in taxes. Group revenues increased 3.8% to 2.44 billion euros.

Turnover at the Merck Serono drugs unit rose 5.4% to 1.47 billion euros, "representing a solid performance in a difficult environment of lower health care spending by governments and other payers". Growth was driven by Rebif (interferon beta-1a) which climbed 8.4% to 426 million euros, while the colorectal/head and neck cancer drug Erbitux (cetuximab) rose 4.7% to 218 million euros, boosted by growth in emerging markets.

Merck chairman Karl-Ludwig Kley said the group's figures were helped by one-time costs from last year not being repeated, "leaving us well positioned as we head into the end of the year". Merck has slightly lowered its full-year guidance and said it now expects revenues to be between 10-10.2 billion euros, down from a previous forecast for 10-10.4 billion euros. Underlying core operating profit for 2011 is expected to be about 2.25 billion euros.

Mr Kley added that Merck is working to improve the quality of its pharmaceutical pipeline and improving efficiency within the group. He said "we will provide important updates on this endeavour in the first half of 2012".