Data from the latest government survey of Hepatitis C cases in the United States show that there are over two million Americans who are infected with hepatitis C virus (HCV), a liver disease transmitted by blood-to-blood contact.
Given the number of HCV cases in the U.S., offering the best possible treatment for the disease holds promise of financial rewards and this is apparently how Gilead Sciences Inc. and its chief executive officer, John Martin, are expected to reap large sums of money.
Gilead's drug Sovaldi, which was approved in December, offers faster and more reliable cure to Hepatitis C than previously available drugs. While traditional treatments can only cure about half of HCV patients and generate unwanted side effects, Sovaldi has a success rate of 90 percent and produces relatively mild side effects. Treatment with Sovaldi is also faster, taking only 12 to 24 weeks compared to other treatments that last up to a year.
"This is a huge change in the approach to hepatitis C treatment," Leonard Berkowitz, chief of infectious diseases at the Brooklyn Hospital Center described Sovaldi. "Most people think the combination pill that Gilead has will be the biggest thing ever in hepatitis C."
Sovaldi, however, is expensive. It currently costs $84,000 for a twelve-week treatment, drawing flak from many patients and insurers who say they can't afford the treatment. Nonetheless, the drug has emerged as a leader in Hepatitis C treatment ever since it became available in the market. Sovaldi raked in almost $139.4 million in its first three weeks alone and is anticipated to generate over $4 billion this year. The revenue is projected to rise to $8.1 billion in 2015.
Gilead's earnings will benefit its CEO as well. Martin owns 4.2 million shares of the company and 6.4 million vested options. Cara Miller, a spokeswoman for Gilead, said that Martin's options and shares are partly attributed to his long tenure at the company mostly as its CEO. According to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, the 62-year old CEO has a net worth of $1.2 billion.
Martin, who has a doctorate in organic chemistry from the University of Chicago, joined California-based Gilead Sciences in 1990. Six years later, he became CEO and spurred the company to become the world's largest maker of HIV medicines.