First-quarter sales climb 5.4 percent in Merck KGaA's healthcare segment

Merck KGaA announced Thursday that first-quarter sales in its healthcare unit lifted 5.4 percent year-over-year to 1.7 billion euros ($1.9 billion), despite lower revenue from Rebif and Gonal-f. The company's overall sales in the three-month period rose 5.3 percent to 3.9 billion euros ($4.3 billion), as net income slipped 11.8 percent to 521 million euros ($580 million), below analyst estimates of 540 million euros ($601 million).

CEO Stefan Oschmann remarked "2017 is another year of many challenges as well as tremendous opportunities," adding "two approvals for our immuno-oncology medicine Bavencio in the [US] within a short period of time are a great success." In March, Bavencio gained its first approval from the FDA for use in adults and children aged 12 and older with metastatic Merkel cell carcinoma. Meanwhile, earlier this month, the anti-PD-L1 drug, which is partnered with Pfizer, was authorised for the treatment of certain patients with locally advanced or metastatic urothelial carcinoma.

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For specific products, quarterly sales of Rebif reached 415 million euros ($462 million), down from 422 million euros ($469 million) in the prior-year period, with Merck noting that the decline was due to volume erosion in the US, as well as the market entry of oral multiple sclerosis products and mandatory price cuts in Europe. Meanwhile, revenue from Erbitux was 218 million euros ($243 million), up from 207 million euros ($230 million) in the same quarter of 2016. Further, sales of Gonal-f reached 171 million euros ($190 million), below the 187 million euros ($208 million) recorded in the year-ago quarter, which the company said was partly caused by continued competitive pressure in Europe from biosimilars.

For the full year, Merck said it now forecasts overall sales of between 15.5 billion euros ($17.3 billion) and 16 billion euros ($17.8 billion), having previously guided for "a slight to moderate increase in comparison with the previous year." The company added that it expects annual adjusted operating profits of between 4.4 billion euros ($4.9 billion) and 4.6 billion euros ($5.1 billion), in line with last year's figure of 4.5 billion euros ($5 billion).

Earlier this week, Merck disclosed that it may split its three business units, which comprise healthcare, life science and performance materials, into separate subsidiaries as part of plans to divide enterprise resource planning systems at its headquarter in Darmstadt, Germany.

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