UPDATE 2-Teva sees big profit drop if Copaxone competition launched
* Teva sees 2014 EPS ex-items $4.20-$4.50 with Copaxone competition
* Sees 2014 EPS ex-items $4.80-$5.10 without competition
* Analysts forecast 2014 EPS of $4.94 - Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S
* Shares up 1.5 pct in New York trade
By Tova Cohen
TEL AVIV, Dec 10 (Reuters) - Teva Pharmaceutical Industries forecast a sharp drop in profit next year if rivals are allowed to launch cheaper versions of its most profitable drug, multiple sclerosis treatment Copaxone.
Teva, the world's biggest generic drugmaker, faces competition after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld an earlier ruling to strip the company's $4 billion-a-year Copaxone of patent protection in 2014, rather than 2015.
The imminent loss of protection to its top branded drug comes as Teva searches for a new chief executive following the abrupt departure of Jeremy Levin in October. He resigned after a clash with Chairman Phillip Frost leaving the company's direction and decision-making process in doubt.
Israel-based Teva, which itself makes copycat versions of other companies' drugs, lost its patent fight against two teams that are developing generic forms of Copaxone: Novartis AG and Momenta Pharmaceuticals Inc ; and another between Mylan Inc and Natco Pharma Ltd.
The competitors would have to get approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration before they could launch cheaper versions of Copaxone, which analysts say could come as early as May.
Teva on Tuesday gave two sets of forecasts for next year - one assuming the launch of at least two generic competitors to Copaxone in the United States on June 1 after the patent expires and the other assuming no competition.
Teva estimated it will earn $4.20 to $4.50 a share on an adjusted basis on revenue of $19.3 billion to $20.3 billion with competition and $4.80-$5.10 a share on revenue of $19.8 billion to $20.8 billion without.
Analysts had forecast the company would earn $4.94 a share on revenue of $20 billion in 2014, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. But that consensus contains some forecasts that assume competition and some that don't, so is not directly comparable.
This year, analysts project Teva will earn $4.99 per share on revenue of $20.1 billion.
Teva shares were up 1.5 percent to $40.74 in early New York trade on relief that its forecasts were roughly in line with investors' expectations.
Teva shares have risen only 9 percent this year due to its uncertain future particularly with regards to Copaxone. It has sharply underperformed rivals Mylan, up 60 percent and Momenta, up 49 pct since the start of the year.
Cowen & Co analyst Ken Cacciatore said Teva investors were more interested in who the company picks as its new chief executive.
"That decision will likely more than outweigh any 2014-2015 financial guidance and is clearly much more critical for future value creation," Cacciatore said.
Acting chief executive and former finance chief Eyal Desheh told a conference call of analysts that finding a new CEO was a top priority.
He said 2014 would be a "pivotal year" for Teva which plans to cut 5,000 jobs, or 10 percent of its workforce, as it prepares for competition to Copaxone.
He said the company will focus its efforts on its generics business and research and development programmes, including high-value complex generics and promising specialty medicines, where it anticipates six important launches.
Separately, Teva said its vice chairman Moshe Many has decided to leave his position on Jan. 1 for personal reasons but will remain a board member. He will be replaced by Amir Elstein, who is stepping down as chairman of holding company Israel Corp .
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