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Israel’s TEVA a Headache for Drug Firms, Rx for Investors

Israeli-based TEVA has been called a juggernaut, copy-cat and an 800-pound ape. It makes generic drugs, lots of them, and money – lots of it.
By Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu
First Publish: 3/7/2010, 9:01 PM / Last Update: 3/7/2010, 9:37 PM

Israel-based Teva Pharmaceuticals, besides making generic drugs, has made lots of people millionaires. Sixteen years ago, its stock was worth $3.02 a share. This week, it is trading at a new record high of slightly more than $60, 20 times its worth in 1994 and more than 40 times its 1990 value of $1.43 a share.

Not bad for a little company whose predecessor started out in 1901 as a wholesale distributor and was founded as a drug company by a couple of immigrants in the 1930s. Through mergers and purchases of other companies, Teva emerged as Israel’s largest drug maker and today is one of the world’s largest 20th pharmaceutical companies. Teva now employs approximately 30,000 people in more than 50 countries

“Teva” is the Hebrew word for nature, but its claim to fame is copy-cat generic drugs, using the same active ingredients as original and more expensive brand name products. It has introduced hundreds of new drugs and more than 100 others are in the pipeline.

Its 2009 sales totaled a record $13.9 billion, 25 percent more than the previous year, and operating income soared.   

The bottom line has been a royal headache for brand-name drug makers and a bonanza for investors. Its current price gives it a market capital of a whopping $56 billion, making it one of the biggest firms traded on the NASDAQ stock exchange.

One of the driving forces for its profits is actually a brand-name name drug it developed on its own, called Copaxone, which treats Multiple Sclerosis.

Teva now is trying to buy the debt-ridden German generic manufacturer Ratiopharm, but the Pfizer dug company, fearing Teva’s appetite for buying companies and making money, has entered the bidding in an attempt to increase its share in the market for generics.

Virtually all industry analysts see a good future for generics as the “baby boom” generation reaches the years of being senior citizens. The shaky and debt-laden American economy has made people more penny-conscious, giving a healthy injection to the sales of cheaper generic drugs.

U.S. President Barack Obama’s troubled health care plan, if it ever passes into law, is expected to help generic drug sales even further.

Most analysts think that Teva’s share price is beginning to get a bit heady but admit that its history of growth and its expansion plans leave room for a healthy future. They also point out the ever-present danger that one or more of its drugs will fail a medical test and be called off the market, an event that would send investors running in the other direction.

Teva also is an example of the Jewish tradition of charity and was at the top of CNN’s list of corporate contributors to the victims of January’s earthquake disaster in Haiti. Within four days of the initial tremors, Teva Pharmaceuticals sent $7 million worth of antibiotics, pain meds and even anxiety and depression drugs to Haiti. "We saw people who don't have high executive level positions writing $1,000 checks," said Teva chief executive Bill Marth.