UPDATED: Teva appeals to Supreme Court for help thwarting Copaxone rivals

Teva Pharmaceutical Industries ($TEVA) is making one last desperate plea to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Israel-based drugmaker has asked SCOTUS to review a lower court's decision to invalidate key patents on its top-selling drug, Copaxone.

The stakes for Teva are high: the U.S. Circuit Court's ruling shortened Copaxone's exclusive access to the market by 18 months. The blockbuster multiple sclerosis treatment accounts for about half of Teva's earnings, and the company already was scrambling to develop a successor drug and cut costs in anticipation of generic competition.

But even if the court takes up Teva's case--even if the justices side with the company--Copaxone sales could suffer serious damage. Teva said today that it expects its case to get a hearing in April, a month before Copaxone faces generic competition, but a decision wouldn't be forthcoming for months after that. Buyers would have plenty of time to stock up on a generic version before the Supreme Court speaks.

And Teva's chances at the high court are iffy. In November, the company asked the Supreme Court to stay the circuit court ruling while it prepared its petition for review; Chief Justice John Roberts refused.

The company has said it's bracing for a $550 million hit from Copaxone generics this year, provided generic copies hit immediately. U.S.-based generics maker Mylan ($MYL) has said its Copaxone knockoff will be ready to roll on May 18 when the drug's patent expires.

Meanwhile, Teva is still casting about for new sources of sales. Yesterday, the company agreed to buy NuPathe and its migraine treatment patch Zecuity for up to $220 million. And at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference earlier this month, executives said they're expecting quick approval for the next-generation form of Copaxone, a long-acting dosage. And they expect 45% of Copaxone patients to convert to the new formula. Both of those assumptions appear optimistic, but time will tell.

- read the Globes story

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

Editor's note: Copaxone accounts for about half of Teva's earnings, rather than sales.