Supreme Court nixes Teva's last-ditch bid to block Copaxone generics

Teva Pharmaceutical Industries ($TEVA) took another shot at fending off early generic competition for its top-selling drug Copaxone. But the U.S. Supreme Court didn't cooperate. The court refused to stay a Federal Circuit ruling that would allow generic rivals onto the market next May, 18 months earlier than Teva had anticipated.

Chief Justice John Roberts rejected Teva's plea to stay the ruling while the company prepares a petition for Supreme Court review. As Reuters reports, the court announced the ruling Wednesday without offering an explanation.

It's a major blow for Teva. If the court later decides to hear Teva's appeal, its review wouldn't take place until the 9-month term that begins in October 2014, Bloomberg says. That's almost 6 months after competition could begin.

Because of the court's schedule, Roberts' decision effectively shuts down Teva's hopes for salvaging branded sales. "Because the key Teva patent that the Federal Circuit invalidated will expire in September 2015, proceedings on the merits in this court could easily consume most of the remaining life of the patent," the company said in court papers (as quoted by Bloomberg).

The appeals court in July invalidated patents that would have expired in 2015. It was a cold shock for Israel-based Teva, which had been counting on that extra 18 months to prepare for Copaxone rivals. The drug brought in $4 billion for Teva last year, making it by far the company's biggest product. As Reuters notes, Copaxone accounts for 20% of Teva's sales and about 50% of its profits. Though the company says it doesn't believe copycat versions will be ready by the time the 2014 patent expires, generics maker Mylan ($MYL) has said it will be ready to launch by the patent expiration date.

The chief justice's decision comes at a time of turmoil for Teva. Already in the midst of a cost-cutting and plant-shutting program, Teva said in October that it would add another 5,000 jobs to the layoffs toll. The announcement enraged labor leaders in Israel, and in the aftermath, Teva CEO Jeremy Levin stepped down, reportedly because of conflict with the board.

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