"We are increasing excited about 2003 prospects and feel out already above consensus estimate should prove conservative," writes analyst Paul Woodhouse of Merrill Lynch. Investment bank Merrill Lynch maintains its "Strong Buy" recommendation for Teva Pharmaceuticals (Nasdaq: TEVA) and its $80 target price, 24% above market.

Woodhose notes that the main market concern over the past few months has been the potential impact on multiple-sclerosis drug Copaxone of Serono's Rebif in the U.S. market. He writes in an update on the Israeli drug giant that these fears appear unfounded and Copaxone's share of new prescriptions has actually expanded materially in the 7-8 weeks since Rebif's launch.

Woodhouse notes that Rebif's entry did lead to a slight slip in Copaxone's market share from an average 28-30% to an average 25-26%, but the drug rebounded immediately to an all-time high of 33.6% for the week ending May 3.

After the late-April launch of the pre-filled syringe version of Copaxone, the latest available IMS data (week ending May 10) indicate a 43.8% market share.

The investment bank regards this figure as an aberration, but see an underlyng trend that Rebif is unlikely to materially impact on Copaxone.

The bank also notes that Teva, which has traded in the $50-60 range for several months, has woken up and could soon continue up to the bank's $80 price objective.