Merck & Co's first quarter net income has more than tripled thanks to lower charges and a striking rise in sales of its diabetes drugs Januvia and Janumet.

Net income came in at $1.04 billion, up from $299 million in the like, year-earlier period, while revenues inched up 1% to $11.58 billion. Merck’s best-selling treatment was once again the asthma/allergic rhinitis drug Singulair (montelukast), up 14% to $1.33 billion.

The most eye-catching performance came from Januvia (sitagliptin) which generated $739 million, up 45%, while Janumet (sitagliptin plus metformin) brought in $305 million, a leap of 52%. Turnover from the HIV drug Isentress (raltegravir) reached $292 million, up 26%, though sales of the cervical cancer jab Gardasil fell 8% to $214 million.

Sales of the cholesterol drugs Vytorin (ezetimibe plus simvastatin) and Zetia (ezetimibe) reached $480 million and $582 million, increases of 1% and 9% respectively. However, revenues from the antihypertensives Cozaar (losartan) and Hyzaar (losartan plus hydrochlorothiazide) slumped 46% to $426 million, due to losing marketing exclusivity in the USA and the major European markets.

Strong Remicade sales

As for products acquired through Merck's merger with Schering-Plough, the anti-inflammatory Remicade (infliximab), the Johnson & Johnson drug which Merck sells outside the USA, contributed $753 million, up 12%. However, that figure will likely decline following the recent settlement of an arbitration dispute with J&J regarding the rights to Remicade and its follow-up Simponi (golimumab).

The anti-allergy medication Nasonex/Asmanex (mometasone) brought in $373 million, a rise of 17%. Sales of the brain cancer drug Temodar (temozolomide) reached $248 million (-10%), down as a result of generic competition in Europe.

Chief executive Kenneth Frazier (pictured) said the strong results were largely driven by double-digit growth of key products "combined with deliberate cost control measures across all areas of the company as we continue to create a more effective and efficient operating model". He added that Merck is "making progress in our robust late-stage pipeline, and leveraging the benefits of our expanded pharmaceutical and vaccine, animal health and consumer portfolio".