German pharmaceuticals firm Merck KgaA said one-off gains, improved operating performance and lower tax rates enabled it to book its highest-ever profit last year. Merck said net profit more than tripled to €658.6 million ($856 million) in 2004, making it "the best year in our 336-year history." The drug maker said its liquid crystals business performed particularly well and sales of its new cancer treatment Erbitux "far exceeded expectations." Bottom-line earnings were also boosted by windfall gains from the sale of its VWR unit. But operating profit also rose, climbing by 15 percent to €754.9 million on a 6.7-percent increase in sales to €5.4 billion.