Merck & Co on Tuesday forecast earnings would rise in 2008 as sales of new medicines offset the loss of exclusive U.S. rights to its Fosamax osteoporosis drug.

The drugmaker said it remains on track to post double-digit compound annual earnings per share growth from 2005 through 2010, excluding items.

Merck projected 2008 earnings per share, excluding special items, of $3.28 to $3.38. The company anticipates 2007 EPS of $3.08 to $3.14 excluding special items.

Analysts on average have expected $3.14 for 2007 and $3.37 for 2008, according to Reuters Estimates.

Merck projected 2008 net earnings of $3.96 to $4.06 per share, including a big gain associated with its partnership with AstraZeneca Plc.

Merck projected sales of its Singulair respiratory drug would grow to $4.6 billion to $4.8 billion next year. Sales of its vaccines are expected to rise to $4.8 billion to $5.2 billion.

Other new drugs driving results next year should include its diabetes medicines Januvia and Janumet and its HIV drug Isentress.

The company said it would take a pretax charge of $670 million this year in connection with the anticipated resolution of civil investigations by federal and state authorities relating to past marketing and selling activities.

Merck also expects a fourth-quarter, pretax gain of about $450 million relating to insurance proceeds which it won from arbitration with some insurance carriers relating to coverage for costs incurred in its Vioxx product liability litigation.

Merck agreed last month to pay $4.85 billion to settle most claims that Vioxx, its withdrawn painkiller, caused heart attacks and strokes in thousands of users. The amount is to be charged against 2007 earnings.

Merck shares fell about 1.4 percent in light premarket trading.

(Reporting by Lewis Krauskopf; editing by Gerald E. McCormick and John Wallace)