By Michael Erman

(Reuters) -Merck & Co on Thursday posted better-than-expected sales and profit in the third quarter on a strong performance by its blockbuster cancer immunotherapy drug Keytruda and human papillomavirus vaccine Gardasil.

Shares rose 2.6% in premarket trading as the drugmaker also raised its annual forecasts for sales and profit despite headwinds created by weak euro and pound.

Keytruda sales jumped around 20% to $5.4 billion, in line with analysts’ estimates. Gardasil sales rose 15% to $2.3 billion, topping expectations by more than $200 million.

The company reported profit of $4.7 billion, or $1.85 a share, excluding certain items. That compares with $4.5 billion, or $1.78 per share, a year earlier. Analysts had been expecting earnings of around $1.71 per share.

Wells Fargo analyst Mohit Bansal said in a note Gardasil’s better-than-expected growth “reflects growing international demand and potentially a normalization from COVID trends in the U.S.”.

The company also posted slightly better-than-expected sales of its COVID-19 antiviral drug Lagevrio (molnupiravir). It developed the drug and shares profit with partner Ridgeback Biotherapeutics.

Merck’s animal health business, however, missed analysts’ estimates, which BMO Capital Markets analyst Evan Seigerman said was “the only point of concern”, but added it followed significant growth earlier in the pandemic.

Merck now expects full-year sales between $58.5 billion and $59 billion, up from its previous range of $57.5 billion to $58.5 billion. It expects full-year profit in the range of $7.32 to $7.37 per share.

Third-quarter sales climbed 14% to $15 billion, ahead of a Refinitiv estimate of $14.1 billion.

Merck had on Wednesday said Chief Executive Officer Rob Davis would take on the additional role of chairman as of Dec. 1, succeeding incumbent Ken Frazier.

(Reporting by Michael Erman in New Jersey and Leroy Leo in Bengaluru; Editing by Edwina Gibbs and Arun Koyyur)