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UPDATE 2-New branded drugs helping Teva Pharm move closer to growth

(Adds CEO comments, more details, share reaction)

JERUSALEM, April 28 (Reuters) - Teva Pharmaceutical Industries is getting closer to returning to growth, its chief executive said, led by its two main branded drugs and following a corporate restructuring.

Teva, the world’s largest generic drugmaker, on Wednesday reported first-quarter profit in line with estimates but lower-than-expected revenue, sending its New York-listed shares down 2% in late morning trading.

The Israeli-based company has focused on reducing its huge debt load, which stood at $23.2 billion at the end of March, and new products such Huntington’s disease treatment Austedo and migraine product Ajovy to replace revenue from multiple sclerosis drug Copaxone - once a blockbuster but now facing stiff competition.

“We are in the phase where the loss from Copaxone is now being balanced off by the growth in Ajovy, Austedo and biosimilars,” CEO Kåre Schultz told Reuters. “We’re getting towards the growth phase, where we will see low single digit growth on our top line.”

In North America, Copaxone sales dipped 17% to $164 million. Austedo sales rose 20% to $146 million in the first quarter, while sales of Ajovy were up 8% to $31 million.

Shultz expressed disappointment with the pace of Ajovy sales but said he still expects the drug, which also faces tough competition, to ultimately gain a one-third market share, from 24.5% currently.

Overall, Teva earned 63 cents per diluted share excluding one-time items in the January-March period, down from 76 cents a share a year earlier. Revenue fell 9% to $3.98 billion.

Analysts had forecast Teva would earn 63 cents a share ex-items on revenue of $4.02 billion, according to I/B/E/S data from Refinitiv.

Revenue in North America dipped 5% to $2 billion, and fell 13% in Europe where the company blamed COVID lockdowns for keeping people from visiting doctors. Schultz said sales in Europe should rebound in the second half as lockdowns are eased.

Income from respiratory products, generic and non-prescription drugs, and some oncology products in North America also fell.

Teva reaffirmed its 2021 forecasts of adjusted EPS of $2.50-$2.70 and revenue of $16.4-$16.8 billion, compared with adjusted EPS of $2.57 and revenue of $16.7 billion in 2020.

Schultz declined to comment on Teva’s opioid case in the United States as the company is in active litigation. He also said he doubted Teva would reach deals to co-produce COVID-19 vaccines but the company remained in talks and was still willing. (Reporting by Steven Scheer; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)

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