* Q1 EPS $1.22 vs $1.21 forecast
* Q1 revenue $5 bln vs $5.1 bln forecast
* Teva open to M&A opportunities, including larger deals -CEO
* Shares up 2.5 pct in New York (Releads with CEO quotes from conference call)
By Tova Cohen
TEL AVIV, May 1 (Reuters) - The new chief executive of Teva Pharmaceutical Industries said the company will examine acquisition opportunities as it seeks to refocus on its generics business, expand in emerging markets and invest in the biosimilars sector.
Teva, the world’s largest generic drugmaker, has faced increased competition in recent years and its growth has slowed. The company had grown rapidly on the heels of several significant acquisitions but it had scaled back on major purchases in the last few years.
Israel’s largest company in February brought in turnaround specialist Erez Vigodman, who is tasked with implementing cost cuts and improving the generics business, where profits have waned as competition grows and opportunities fade.
“Teva must regain focus on its generic business ... with the target to improve our profitability by 2017 by 600 basis points,” Vigodman told a conference call of analysts on Thursday after the company reported first quarter earnings per share that beat analysts’ consensus estimate by one cent.
“While the focus remains on fixing the foundation and driving organic growth, we are aware of the opportunities around us, including potential larger transactions,” he said.
Teva shares were up 2.5 percent to $50.07 in early New York trade.
Vigodman said Teva was on track to reduce gross expenses by $1 billion by the end of 2014 and $2 billion by 2017. This would lead to $500 million of net savings by 2017 and Teva is hoping to be even more ambitious on this target, he said.
Plans to close or divest 11 plants are already underway and 16 additional plants are under evaluation.
Teva is also “fully aware” of the opportunities in the field of biosimilars - generic versions of complex biological medicines to treat conditions like cancer and kidney disease, the CEO said.
“We will be considering inorganic opportunities in order to be positioned better,” Vigodman said, adding Teva will also move to expand in emerging markets in the next two years.
Teva earned $1.22 per share excluding one-time items in the first quarter, up from $1.12 a year earlier.
Revenue rose 2 percent to $5.0 billion, helped by a 17 percent rise in U.S. generics revenue but falling short of analysts’ average estimate of $5.1 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S/.
Revenue in Europe fell 4 percent, partly due to a mild winter in central and eastern Europe.
The company maintained its full year 2014 earnings and revenue forecast.
Global sales of its best-selling multiple sclerosis drug Copaxone, which accounts for about 20 percent of sales and 50 percent of profit, edged up 1 percent to $1.07 billion. The injectable drug faces competition from oral treatments as well as cheaper generics in the coming years.
To help it remain competitive, Teva launched a 40 mg version of Copaxone that has to be injected only three times a week instead of daily and it is quickly moving patients over. As of April 18, this new version of Copaxone had a 10.5 percent U.S. market share in terms of total prescriptions. U.S. market share for the two Copaxone products was 33.5 percent.
The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in Teva’s appeal in a Copaxone patent fight in the fall and a ruling is expected in 2015. In the meantime the top court denied Teva’s request to stay a lower court ruling that favoured the developers of generic versions of Copaxone.
If a generic version is launched in the meantime, any sales would be considered “at risk”, Vigodman said.
“Any company launching at risk faces significant potential exposure in the billion of dollars,” he said.
Teva declared a quarterly dividend of 1.21 shekels (34.7 cents) a share, unchanged from the fourth quarter. (Additional reporting by Steven Scheer; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)