As Teva preps for new Copaxone launch, Q4 beats estimates on old version's growth

Teva Pharmaceutical Industries ($TEVA) is like a skiff-racing team that's beating its own speed records on the river but heading for an enormous waterfall just around the bend. As well as it performs now, the question remains: How well can it recover from the imminent loss of Copaxone patent protection?

The Israel-based drugmaker surpassed sales and profits forecasts for the fourth quarter, thanks to some well-managed new generic launches and branded-drug growth. Teva rolled out a copy of Merck & Co.'s ($MRK) Temodar brain-cancer drug in August, AbbVie's ($ABBV) Niaspan blood-pressure pill in September, and Eli Lilly's ($LLY) antidepressant Cymbalta in December, and all have turned in strong early performances. Its cancer drug Treanda delivered 10% growth during the quarter, to $177 million.

But it was again Copaxone, Teva's largest product, that helped boost sales the most. For the fourth quarter, its sales amounted to $1.14 billion, up 8%, beating analyst estimates. All in all, Copaxone still accounted for about one-fifth of the company's sales for the period, in this case, $5.43 billion. Profits were up 5.5% to $1.2 billion, or $1.42 per share.

As Bloomberg notes, analysts expect Copaxone sales to fall by more than half by 2016, thanks to competition that can come as early as this May. The company itself has predicted a sales hit of up to $550 million this year, provided generic versions arrive as threatened.

Teva has till then to move as many patients as possible to its brand-new Copaxone dose, which needs to be injected only three times a week. The FDA approved that product earlier this week, and the company predicts that 45% of current Copaxone users will switch. Meanwhile, Teva's cost-cutting efforts continue; the company announced a $2 billion restructuring last year, including plans to chop 5,000 jobs.

As acting CEO Eyal Desheh said in a statement today, "2014 will be a pivotal year in terms of execution and further enhancement of our strategic direction." That's perhaps an understatement. Incoming CEO Erez Vigodman has his work cut out when he takes the reins next week.

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Special Reports: Top 10 Drug Patent Losses of 2014 - Copaxone | Top 10 Generics Makers by 2012 Revenue - Teva