Gilead forecasts 2021 growth, strong remdesivir COVID-19 sales

Gilead Sciences on Thursday, February 4, forecast its 2021 results above Wall Street estimates after posting a 26% rise in 4th quarter 2020 revenue, driven by sales of its antiviral drug, remdesivir, which is used to treat COVID-19 patients.

Shares of Gilead were up 2.5% in extended trading.

Gilead said the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect its sales, including its treatments for hepatitis C and HIV, due to fewer people going to their doctors. It expects a gradual recovery in underlying market dynamics starting the 2nd quarter of this year.

Remdesivir, which is sold under the brand name Veklury, brought in $1.9 billion in the 4th quarter ended December 31, above analysts' estimates of $1.34 billion. Excluding Veklury, Gilead said its quarterly sales fell 7%.

The company said remdesivir continues to be a critical tool during the COVID-19 pandemic, forecasting 2021 sales of up to $3 billion for the drug.

Gilead chief medical officer Merdad Parsey said that unlike current COVID-19 vaccines and some other drugs, remdesivir does not target the spike proteins of the coronavirus, which are altered in some recently identified, more transmissible variants of the virus.

"We have not so far seen mutations that would impact the efficacy of remdesivir," he said during a conference call.

Gilead said it continues to work on an inhaled version of the COVID-19 drug – which is given intravenously to hospitalized patients – but more clinical study is required.

For 2021, the California-based company projected an adjusted earnings range with a midpoint of $7.10 per share, on product sales with a midpoint of $24.4 billion, ahead of respective Wall Street estimates of $6.85 per share and $24.27 billion, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

"We think the $7 number is higher than where investors were looking for and provides a good base to continue to grow," Jefferies analyst Michael Yee said in an email.

He said Gilead projected 2021 operating expenses at less than analysts have estimated.

The company's 4th quarter revenue totaled $7.42 billion, beating the average analyst estimate of $7.33 billion. Adjusted quarterly earnings of $2.19 were ahead of Wall Street expectations of $2.15 per share. –