As Veklury's sales slide, Gilead hopes for a quicker rebound from Biktarvy, other HIV drugs

For a variety of factors, Gilead's HIV treatment Biktarvy has been slower than other drugs to rebound from the pandemic. (Fierce Pharma)

The pandemic giveth, and the pandemic taketh away. Few companies can validate this sentiment like Gilead Sciences.

One one hand, the emergence of SARS-CoV-02 helped bring Gilead an unexpected windfall as it happened upon a COVID-19 treatment with a repurposed Ebola drug remdesivir, now Veklury. On the other, the pandemic has stunted the sales of the company’s bread-and-butter therapies for HIV and hepatitis C.

On Thursday afternoon, when Gilead presented its second-quarter earnings, there was evidence that the positive effects of the pandemic on the company’s sales have begun to subside, while the negative effects are still lingering.

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While sales from its sudden coronavirus blockbuster Veklury are fading, those for its tried and true therapies are starting to rebound, though not as sharply as the company had hoped.

It all added up to a drop in revenue from $6.42 billion in the first quarter of this year to $6.22 in this period.   

Sales from Veklury fell to $829 million in the quarter, a decrease from its $1.5 billion figure in this year’s first quarter and $1.9 billion in the final quarter of 2020.

Meanwhile, Gilead’s HIV cash cow Biktarvy rang up sales of $1.99 billion, a 24% increase year-over-year and an improvement on the $1.82 billion it generated in the previous quarter. 

While overall sales for the company’s HIV offerings came in at $3.94 billion, a 2% drop from the second quarter last year, it was an improvement on the $3.65 billion figure from the first quarter.

Considering the extent to which other drugs that lagged during the pandemic have bounced back in this year’s second quarter, the performance of Gilead’s HIV treatments is somewhat perplexing. 

During a conference call, Johanna Mercier, the company’s chief financial officer, explained that the HIV market is different.

“Your dynamic market is much smaller,” said Mercier, who added that new patients, switching patients and returning patients make up only 5% of the market.

The unique composition of the market was evidenced in the second quarter last year when the sales drop from the start of the pandemic wasn’t nearly as pronounced as with many other drugs.  

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Gilead’s hepatitis C drugs showed a healthier rebound in the second quarter, combining for sales of $549 million, a 23% increase from last year’s second quarter and an 8% increase from the first quarter.   

Two other positives were the quick uptake of new breast cancer drug Trodelvy, which had sales of $89 million, and new CAR-T therapy Tecartus, which generated $41 million in revenue. These treatments are key to Gilead’s future as it attempts to lessen its dependence on Biktarvy.

“We’re beginning to see the positive impact of our strategy which we introduced early last year,” said Gilead CEO Daniel O’Day. “The business is diversifying across indications and therapies.”