German Merck sees slight gain in 2015 core profit

Germany’s Merck KGaA said underlying core earnings would stagnate or grow only slightly this year as it earmarks money for the developing a new immunotherapy against cancer and amid strong competition for its multiple sclerosis drug Rebif.

Rebif, Merck’s best-selling pharmaceutical, saw sales slip 5 percent in the last three months of 2014, adjusted for currency swings – a smaller decline than expected. The company on Tuesday predicted further declines this year.

Shares in Merck were indicated down 1.1 percent ahead of the 0800 GMT Frankfurt market open.

Merck’s established injectable MS drug Rebif is under threat from new oral treatments against the debilitating disease, such as Novartis’s Gilenya, Sanofi’s Aubagio and Biogen Idec’s Tecfidera.

But overall fourth-quarter earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, amortisation (EBITDA) and one-offs rose 10.5 percent to 878 million euros ($983 million), the maker of drugs, high-tech chemicals and lab supplies said.

The result was lifted by strong demand for liquid crystals used in the screens of ultra-high-definition TVs and mobile devices, and beat the 870 million euros expected on average by analysts polled by Reuters..

After years of setbacks in drug development, Merck scored a rare success in November when it won Pfizer as development partner for an experimental cancer immunotherapy, part of a class of drugs known as anti-PD-L1.

The family-controlled German group in September agreed to acquire Sigma-Aldrich Corp for $17 billion in cash, the biggest takeover in the German group’s history, and plans to wrap up the deal in mid-2015.

It said its outlook did not yet take into account the effect of the planned takeover of the U.S.-based lab supplies maker. ($1 = 0.8932 euros) (Reporting by Ludwig Burger; Editing by Kirsti Knolle and Georgina Prodhan)

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