By Bill Berkrot
(Reuters) - Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd said on Tuesday it is "completely confident" the new version of its flagship multiple sclerosis drug, Copaxone, which features less frequent dosing, will be approved in the United States in the near future.
The Israel-based company said it believes it will be able to get 45 percent of regular Copaxone patients to switch to the new drug, which is injected three times a week instead of daily.
Teva's branded MS drug accounts for about 20 percent of sales and 50 percent of Teva profits, though Teva is the world's largest seller of generic medicines.
Analysts believe it is critically important for Teva to get patients switched to the three-times-weekly drug before competition from cheap generic versions of Copaxone hit the market as soon as this year.
However, acting Chief Executive Eyal Desheh, speaking at the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco, said he believes that "purported generics of Copaxone may be quite different" and should have to prove themselves to be as safe and effective as branded Copaxone, the market leader for MS treatments, before they can be viewed as a true generic.
Teva this month announced that industry outsider and Teva board member Erez Vigodman would become its next chief executive, replacing Jeremy Levin who left abruptly in October following clashes with the board.
Vigodman, who previously led MA Industries, the world's biggest generic agrochemicals company, is expected to cut jobs and costs and seek new areas of revenue to help turn around the company, which has seen its share price lag behind those of rivals.
That could come through new branded drugs, building its generic presence in emerging markets, such as Brazil and China, and through deals.
Teva executives at the conference said they expect further consolidation in the generic drugs space and said the company still has a sense of urgency when it comes to acquisitions.
"It's important to move fast because everyone is looking at same targets," Desheh said. "But we have to do the clever deals that Teva was so good at doing in the past."
Teva shares trading on the New York Stock Exchange were up 8 percent at $44.68.
(Reporting by Bill Berkrot; Editing by Leslie Adler)