Merck KGaA has posted a reasonable set of figures for the fourth quarter of 2011, boosted again by sales of its multiple sclerosis blockbuster Rebif.

The Darmstadt, Germany-based group noted that net profits almost tripled to 135.6 million euros - the like, year-earlier period saw the firm write down the value of Parkinson's disease drug safinamide, since returned to Italy's Newron Pharmaceuticals, by 134 million.

Rrevenues increased 3% to 2.63 billion euros and turnover at the Merck Serono drugs unit rose 3% to 1.54 billion euros. Growth was driven by Rebif (interferon beta-1a) which edged up 1% to 431 million euros, helped by price increases in the USA.

The colorectal/head and neck cancer drug Erbitux (cetuximab) rose 6% to 225 million euros, boosted by growth in Latin America, while the fertility drug Gonal-f (follitropin) increased 8% to 139 million euros. Merck's Glucophage (metformin) diabetes products edged up 2% to 89 million euros, while the beta blocker Concor (bisoprolol) franchise was flat at 104 million euros. The growth hormone treatment Saizen (somatropin) slipped 3% to 56 million euros, impacted by pricing pressures.

Merck chairman Karl-Ludwig Kley said the company delivered a good operational result "in a challenging year, including surpassing 10 billion euros in total revenues for the first time in the company’s history. For the full year, he added that "we managed to deliver on our profitability guidance despite facing a softening economy and significant one-time charges".

Last month, Merck announced a cost-cutting programme in response to what Dr Kley described as "the competitive and market pressures we face in our businesses [which] are likely to increase over the next few years". He says the moves "across all businesses and regions [will] enable us to address our inefficiencies and free up resources to invest in promising growth markets".