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UPDATE 2-Teva wins U.S. approval for generics of Merck drugs

* OK for generics of blood-pressure drugs Cozaar, Hyzaar

* Says wins 180-day exclusive rights for generics (Adds background)

NEW YORK, April 7 (Reuters) - Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd TEVA.TA said on Wednesday it won U.S. approval for its generic versions of Merck & Co's MRK.N blockbuster blood-pressure drugs Cozaar and Hyzaar.

Teva, the world's biggest generic drugmaker, also said it will have 180 days to market the generics exclusively, an award generally given to companies that challenge patents first. Israel-based Teva TEVA.O said it was launching sales immediately.

An exclusivity period can allow generic companies a window of significant sales before rivals rush in and pricing freefalls.

Teva said a federal appeals court this week rejected an effort by generic drugmakers Apotex and Roxane Laboratories to challenge Teva’s right to that exclusivity period.

Last week, Apotex and Roxane sued the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, arguing that a key patent for the drugs had expired and therefore no company was eligible for the exclusive rights. [ID:nN31247001]

Cozaar and Hyzaar, which have annual U.S. sales of about $1.6 billion, have been among Merck’s biggest selling products, but the drugmaker has been bracing for generic competition this year.

Teva shares were down 0.8 percent at $63.26 in afternoon trading on Nasdaq.

Reporting by Lewis Krauskopf, editing by Dave Zimmerman