Gilead Rises To Highest Price on Potential Drug Sales

Gilead Sciences Inc. rose to its highest price ever on optimism over potential sales for the company’s experimental hepatitis C medications.

Gilead gained 5.7 percent to $55.15 at 4 p.m. New York time, its highest closing value since the stock first started trading in 1992. The shares of the Foster City, California-based company have more than doubled in the past 12 months.

Gilead estimated during an earnings conference call yesterday that 150,000 patients infected with hepatitis C may seek treatment in the U.S. alone once a new class of all-oral drugs is on the market, compared with 85,000 patients taking therapies last year. That means the current analysts’ consensus estimates of $5 billion to $7 billion in sales for Gilead’s hepatitis C treatments are too low, Michael Yee, an analyst with RBC Capital Markets in San Francisco, said in a note.

“We believe the market will grow significantly” after the drugs are approved, Bret Holley, an analyst with Guggenheim Partners in New York, wrote in a note to clients today.

Gilead said yesterday its all-oral hepatitis C treatments sofosbuvir and ledipasvir cured 95 percent of patients after eight weeks of the therapy. The company is moving the drugs into a third of three stages of clinical trials typically required for U.S. regulatory approval.

The interim results from a mid-stage study called Lonestar show Gilead’s combination works well without ribavirin, an antiviral that is paired with interferon for as long as a year as part of the current standard treatment.

Gilead is competing with drugmakers including AbbVie Inc. and Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. in the quest for hepatitis C regimens that don’t involve injections of interferon, which can cause flu-like symptoms and depression. Hepatitis C affects about 150 million people worldwide and the market for new pills is estimated at $20 billion.