Merck reported a 67 percent profit increase Friday for the first quarter of this year compared to the same period in 2011, despite lower sales than some analysts predicted.

The global drug maker, which is based in Whitehouse Station, N.J. and has big operations in the Philadelphia suburbs, got the profit bump by spending less.

"We're trying to manage our cost structure going forward," Merck chief executive officer Ken Frazier said in a conference call with Wall Street analysts.

The sales highlight for Merck was in the diabetes area. The asthma drug Singular remains Merck's top seller, with $1.34 billion in sales in the first quarter, a three percent increase. But the second-best seller is the diabetes pill Januvia, which had $919 million in sales, an increase of 24 percent over the same period in 2011.

Merck said its net income was $1.74 billion, which equates to 56 cents per share. That compared to $1.04 billion and 34 cents per share in the first quarter of 2011.

The total sales for the first quarter were $11.74 billion, just 1 percent above the the $11.58 billion a year earlier.

Merck stock was at $38.87 in the first few minutes of trading on Friday.

The financial charts with the Merck earnings release is here.