The poster child for the nation's drug cost crisis continues to carry its manufacturer through booming sales and revenue.
Gilead Sciences Tuesday reported that its second-quarter total revenue for 2015 rose more than 26% to more than $8 billion. Sales of Sovaldi and Harvoni accounted for 60% of that revenue. The Foster City, Calif.-based firm reports the drugs have treated more than 180,000 hepatitis C patients in the U.S. and Europe since the beginning of the year.
Though sales of Sovaldi fell globally from $3.5 billion in the second quarter of 2014 to $1.3 billion this quarter, they were more than offset by the $3.6 billion in global sales generated by Gilead's once-a-day treatment Harvoni.
Buoyed by those numbers, Gilead adjusted its outlook for the full year, increasing its revenue forecast range to $29 billion to $30 billion. In February, Gilead's estimated revenue between $26 billion and $27 billion.
During a call with investors, Gilead Executive Vice President Paul Carter attributed strong sales among Gilead's hepatitis C treatments to increased access in the U.S. and Europe, which he said indicated a growing willingness by insurers to reimburse for such therapies despite their high costs.
Both drugs have been the focus of a growing controversy over the cost of new drugs—some of which can cost tens of thousands of dollars for annual treatment.
Many expressed disbelief at Sovaldi's list price of $1,000 a pill, or $84,000 for a 12-week treatment regimen, when it was launched in 2013. Frustrations over its price only grew once Harvoni was introduced a year later with the price tag of $1,125 for one pill. Over the course of a 24-week treatment regimen, the cost for treatment can total as much as $189,000.
Carter said a growing number of patients were taking Harvoni for less than the traditional 24-week regimen, and that has made it more appealing to payers. He estimated as many as 40% of U.S. patients using Harvoni were receiving treatment for about eight weeks.
“This is an encouraging trend as it suggests payers should be seeing the value of earlier treatment,” Carter said. “We believe this makes a strong case for payers to further ease restrictions on patient access.”
But some will view the company's large gains since the hepatitis C medications were first introduced as evidence that Gilead is exploiting a disease that affects millions.
Last month, two health groups filed a lawsuit against the Food and Drug Administration asking for release of clinical trial information that led to the approval of both Harvoni and Sovaldi.
Gilead itself has been the subject of scrutiny over the costs of the drugs. Last December, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority filed a lawsuit in federal court claiming the company was engaged in price gouging that led the agency to spend up to $2.4 million for reimbursements on Sovaldi for its health plan members.
Last year, members of the Senate Finance Committee began an investigation that sought to look into how Gilead set the price of Sovaldi.
The controversies have done little to affect Gilead's performance, as evidenced by Tuesday's earnings report.
Shares of biopharmaceutical firm Gilead Sciences rose by 3% to more than $116 during aftermarket trading on Tuesday.