If you believe the stories, people who have near-death experiences come away from it all as very different people. That seems to be true for corporations as well; the revived Schering-Plough (NYSE:SGP) now seems like a very different company.

While I wouldn't say that this company is out of the woods yet, it continues to move toward the edge of the forest. Internal sales rose 6% for the fourth quarter; adding in the company's share in its cholesterol joint venture with Merck (NYSE:MRK) boosts that to 13% growth. Though business in the over-the-counter unit and animal health wasn't so good (down 9% and 4%, respectively), pharmaceutical sales were up 10% (excluding the joint venture).

As with many big drug companies, Schering-Plough's high-performing products didn't see much movement. Remicade is still the largest single contributor and continues to grow (up 19% this quarter), while other drugs like PEG-Intron, Rebetol, Temodar, and Nasonex all also made significant contributions.

Sales were up 89% in the cholesterol joint venture, while Schering's stake in equity income climbed 173%. Investors may recall that the primary asset in this joint venture is the combination cholesterol drug Vytorin. (I'm sure you've all seen ads for that one at least a dozen times per night on TV.)

When looking at Schering-Plough's pipeline, we need to step back a bit for perspective. Though the pipeline is relatively modest in size and depth, this is also among the smallest companies grouped into the pharmaceutical industry. As a result, it doesn't take quite so much bang for it to make a buck. Nevertheless, the company does have some high-potential products in development for hepatitis C, AIDS, and rheumatoid arthritis, though competitors like ValeantPharmaceuticals (NYSE:VRX) and Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) are working on similar projects in hep-C and AIDS, respectively.

These days, it seems that every pharmaceutical company is facing above-average risks from some combination of product safety lawsuits, generic competition, and weak pipelines. But Schering-Plough is arguably one of the few whose risk level is actually decreasing. Combined with better-than-average growth, that could continue to make this a stock worth owning for some time.

For more Foolish takes on the drug trade:

Fool contributor Stephen Simpson owns shares of Valeant Pharmaceuticals but has no financial interest in any other stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares). Merck is a Motley Fool Income Investor pick. Pfizer is a Motley Fool Inside Value pick. The Fool has a disclosure policy.