Merck KGaA, the German maker of pharmaceuticals and specialty chemicals, said Tuesday that earnings rose strongly in the first three months of the current year thanks to steady demand for its products. Merck said in a statement that it booked net profit after minorities of 119.6 million euros ($155 million) in the period from January to March, a rise of 20.6 percent from the year-earlier figure. Operating profit rose by 17 percent to 198.1 million euros on a 7.6-percent increase in sales to 1.381 billion euros, the statement said. Merck was particularly pleased with the performance of its anti-cancer drug, Erbitux, whose sales amounted to 42 million euros, up 17 percent on the previous quarter. Chairman Bernhard Scheuble said: "We started the year well and we expect a continuation of the positive developments for the remainder of the year from both the pharmaceuticals and chemicals sectors. As a result, full-year sales should achieve growth in the single-digit range, unless currency effects become less favorable."