Merck & Co yesterday raised its full year earnings forecasts after reporting a 12% jump in second quarter profits to $1.68 billion, with revenues climbing almost 6% to $6.1 billion on growing demand for its cervical cancer vaccine Gardasil, as well as sterling performances from its cholesterol-lowering franchise headed by Vytorin (ezetimibe plus simvastatin) and Zetia (ezetimibe) plus newer drugs in the fold.

Gardasil headed the charge for its vaccines unit, contributing $358 million to the unit’s $1 billion sales for the three-month period, which itself put in a three-fold increase over last year. Other big earners were the asthma drug Singulair (montelukast), the number one prescribed respiratory drug in the USA, which added $1.1 billion into its coffers (up 15%), Zetia, which reached $578 million, an increase of 21%, and Vytorin, which rose 38% to reel in $686 million. Both Vytorin and Zetia – co-marketed with Schering-Plough – have achieved all-time highs in terms of both new and total prescription share during the second quarter.

New drugs are also on the up, with Januvia (sitagliptin) generating $144 million for the quarter, and now on the formularies of all major pharmacy benefit mangers in the USA. Its new diabetes agent Janumet (sitagliptin plus metformin) reaped $24 million; it is currently approved in the USA, Mexico and Peru, with additional regulatory filings being sought elsewhere.

But all is not completely rosy, and Merck noted that it also took a $210 million charge in the quarter to fight lawsuits relating to its now withdrawn painkiller Vioxx (rofecoxib), bringing the total fund to $810 million. The US giant is facing, or at least has been named as a defendant in, 26,950 lawsuits; Merck withdrew the drug in 2004 after a study showed the drug raised the risk of heart attacks and stroke.

Despite this slight cloud hanging over the results, Merck said it now anticipates earnings per share for the year of $3.00-$3.10, excluding restructuring charges. Reported EPS are expected to be $2.80-$2.95.