Merck & Co. Inc. reported a 67 percent profit increase Friday for the first quarter of this year compared with the same period in 2011, but the number was helped by cost-cutting and absence of a big charge from a year ago.

The global drugmaker, which is based in Whitehouse Station, N.J., and has big operations in the Philadelphia suburbs, got the profit increase in part 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.

Merck said its net income was $1.74 billion, or 56 cents a share. That compared with $1.04 billion and 34 cents per share for the same period in 2011. Total sales for the quarter were $11.73 billion, just 1 percent above the $11.58 billion a year earlier.

The first quarter of 2011 included a $500 million payment to Johnson & Johnson to settle an arbitration dispute over agreements for distribution of territory and profits for the drugs Remicade and Simponi.

Merck had increased sales for its top two drugs, Singular and Januvia, quarter over quarter, but stock market perspectives on those can vary. Asthma drug Singular's sales grew 3 percent, to $1.34 billion, but it will lose patent protection in the United States in August and already faces generic competition elsewhere.

First-quarter sales of Januvia, a diabetes pill, grew 24 percent to $919 million.

In Friday trading, Merck closed at $38.46, down a penny.

Contact David Sell at 215-854-4506 or or Twitter @PhillyPharma. Read his PhillyPharma blog on