Gilead spotlights growth for HIV, cancer meds as COVID drug Veklury slides

Even as sales of Gilead Sciences' COVID-19 drug Veklury slow along with pandemic hospitalizations, the company was able to celebrate growth for its core offerings in 2022.

Thanks to expansions in cell therapy and in its bread-and-butter HIV franchise, Gilead grew sales by 8% last year, excluding Veklury. 

Within HIV, Biktarvy crossed the $10 billion sales threshold for the first time, delivering a 20% sales increase from 2021. The combo drug continued to gain market share “as it has every quarter” since launching in 2016, Gilead CEO Daniel O’Day said in the company’s earnings statement

Biktarvy's $10.4 billion haul propelled Gilead's entire HIV department to a 5% sales increase in 2022 to $17.2 billion. The drug is growing despite competition from GSK's long-acting offering Cabenuva.

Meanwhile, Sunlenca, Gilead’s own recently approved long-lasting HIV treatment, likely won’t be a sales driver for some time, Chief Commercial Officer Johanna Mercier acknowledged during a conference call Thursday. But the antiviral serves as the cornerstone of the California company's own long-acting efforts.

Moving forward, COVID-related factors that have hurt HIV revenues in the recent past, such as low screening and diagnosis rates, “won’t be in play” in 2023, Mercier added.

As for Gilead's COVID-19 drug Veklury, its sales fell 30% last year to $3.9 billion. The company said lower rates of COVID-19-related hospitalizations drove the decline.

But Gilead isn’t giving up on the treatment. The California-based drugmaker believes the Veklury business is “much more sustainable than we’ve ever seen before,” Mercier said on the call. That confidence comes partly from the drug's status as the only antiviral cleared for use in hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

Outside of Veklury, the company is still pushing for more space in the COVID market. It’s currently testing G5-5245, a twice-daily tablet meant to prevent against COVID disease progression in both high- and stand-risk patients.

With a rapidly changing pandemic drug marketplace, adding a new product could be dicey. But Gilead is going to “push forward and do our best” with the trials, acknowledging that the pandemic uncertainties will “really determine what happens from here,” Chief Medical Officer Merdad Parsey, M.D., Ph.D., said on the call.

Beyond Gilead's flagship antiviral business, the company has big ambitions in oncology. In the cancer drug department, rising star Trodelvy just snagged an important approval in HR-positive, HER2-negative breast cancer. The drug helped Gilead’s oncology sales reach $2.1 billion in sales, a whopping 71% jump from the prior year.

As for blood cancer, Gilead's cell therapy sales jumped 68% year over year to $1.5 billion in 2022, driven mainly by Yescarta's move into earlier large B-cell lymphoma treatment. 

All told last year, Gilead's sales reached $26.98 billion. That was down very slightly compared with $27 billion in 2021, when pandemic-related revenue drove the Veklury performance.