Gilead Sciences Reports Quarterly Earnings Growth of 55%

Gilead Sciences said on Wednesday its first-quarter profit rose 55% amid higher sales of its drugs for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

The biotechnology company said net income rose to $407.4 million, or 85 cents a share, from $262.7 million, or 55 cents a share, a year earlier. Analysts expected a profit of 80 cents a share.

"It's another solid quarter for Gilead ... they keep putting up great numbers," said analyst Michael King of Rodman & Renshaw.

The company continues to expect full-year 2007 drug sales of $3.4 billion to $3.5 billion, Chief Financial Officer John Milligan said on a conference call.

"We would prefer to wait until the end of the second quarter to update the guidance," he said, noting first-quarter sales of anti-fungal drug Ambisome and hepatitis drug Hepsera were stronger than the company had expected.

Total revenue rose 48% to $1.03 billion, exceeding the $992.7 million forecast by analysts.

Sales of HIV drugs rose 56% to $705.1 million, including $345.9 million for the two-drug combination HIV pill Truvada, and $190.2 million for Atripla, a once-daily pill approved by U.S. regulators last July that layers Truvada with Bristol-Myers Squibb's Sustiva.

First-quarter sales of Viread and Emtriva, the two older HIV drugs used in the combination pills, fell 16% to $160.7 million and by 16% to $8.3 million, respectively, as patients switched to the newer treatments.

Hepsera sales rose 35% to $71.3 million, while Ambisome sales rose 14% to $61.5 million.

Foster City, California,-based Gilead also collects royalties on sales by Roche for Tamiflu, an antiviral treatment being stockpiled as a potential treatment for bird flu.

First-quarter royalty and contract revenue more than tripled to $188.2 million, including $167.9 million from Roche for fourth-quarter 2006 Tamiflu sales.

The company said quarterly research and development costs rose to $130.1 million from $88.4 million, while sales and administrative expense rose to $166.6 million from $142.5 million.

Gilead is awaiting a June decision from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on its application for ambrisentan, a drug developed by Myogen for the treatment of pulmonary arterial hypertension. If approved, the drug could generate annual sales of more than $1 billion, analysts estimate.

Gilead's shares are up more than 21% so far this year, compared with a gain of nearly 8% for the AMEX Biotech Index. The stock, which closed at $78.43, was up slightly in after hours trading.