Gilead Seeks Deals as U.S. Hepatitis C Sales May Flatten

  • Drugmaker announces $12 billion added to share repurchase
  • Hepatitis C drugs sell $4.89 billion in fourth quarter

Gilead Sciences Inc. expects U.S. use of its blockbuster hepatitis C treatment to be flat or stable this year as the franchise faces new competition from other drugmakers. The biotechnology firm is on the lookout for acquisition opportunities to sustain growth, executives said.

Fourth-quarter earnings beat analysts’ estimates after the company’s hepatitis C pills, Sovaldi and Harvoni, sold $4.89 billion, Gilead said Tuesday in a statement. While the drugs have been among the fastest-selling medications of all time, they face competition from AbbVie Inc. and a therapy from Merck & Co. that was approved last week by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The flow of new hepatitis C patients will be “fairly flat, stable” in the U.S., said Paul Carter, the company’s executive vice president of commercial operations. European use should continue to grow, he said Tuesday on a call with investors.

John Milligan, who will become chief executive officer in March, said the company is “very interested in acquiring assets through partnerships or potentially acquisitions that can help us grow” in treatment areas outside of viral diseases. He named oncology, inflammatory diseases and liver diseases as areas of interest. While Milligan, who currently serves as chief operating officer, keeps a mental shopping list, he said “whether or not those things ever come to fruition depends on a lot of factors,” including price.

Product sales this year will be $30 billion to $31 billion, Gilead said. Analysts have estimated revenue of $31.5 billion, though those estimates may not be comparable because some analysts include revenue from royalties and other sources, while Gilead only projects drug sales.

More Buybacks

The company also said it will add $12 billion to its share buyback program, after a current $15 billion buyback announced last year is completed. The shares rose 1.2 percent to $83.68 in late trading. 

Fourth-quarter net income rose to $4.68 billion, or $3.18 a share, from $3.49 billion, or $2.18, a year ago. Excluding one-time items, earnings were $3.32 a share, compared with the $2.99 average of analysts’ estimates compiled by Bloomberg.

So far, the company has dominated the hepatitis C market, though AbbVie’s entrance in December 2014 forced Gilead to offer large discounts to health insurers and pharmacy benefit managers. Merck’s new pill may prompt a renewed price war -- its treatment, called Zepatier, has a list price that’s 42 percent lower than Gilead’s Harvoni.

Here are details of the company’s revenue:

  • Total fourth-quarter revenue rose 16 percent to $8.51 billion from a year earlier; analysts had estimated $8.15 billion
  • Harvoni sold $3.35 billion
  • Sovaldi sold $1.55 billion
  • Other antiviral products, including the HIV treatment Truvada, sold $2.99 billion

Investors are eager to see the company make more acquisitions to bolster its product pipeline. In December, Gilead said it would pay $725 million to acquire a stake in Galapagos NV, buying into the Belgian drugmaker’s experimental treatment for rheumatoid arthritis.

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