Teva Pharmaceuticals ( TEVA) reported a spike in first-quarter earnings, citing strong profit margins and an increase in sales of its multiple sclerosis drug, Copaxone. Results beat analysts' consensus estimate.

The Jerusalem-based company earned $138 million, or 50 cents a share, compared with $86 million, or 32 cents a share, in the previous-year quarter. Analysts expected EPS of 46 cents.

Sales were $757 million, up from $545 million last year. The company said North American sales accounted for 64% of sales, while Europe accounted for 25%. North American pharmaceutical sales, including Copaxone, totaled $427 million, up 41%. Additionally, the company said gross profit margin reached a rate of 46% compared with 43.8% for the first quarter of 2002, reflecting a favorable product mix.

"First quarter results were also enhanced by the growing demand for Copaxone. In addition, our recent clinical success with rasagiline reinforces the strong prospects for our specialty neurology business," said Israel Makov, Teva's chief executive.

Nonetheless, shares of the company were down 0.4% to $46.50 in Instinet premarket trading.

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