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Gilead Sales Chief Retires Amidst Key Hep C Drug Launch, Massive Insider Selling

Stocks in this article: GILD

Gilead Sciences'  (GILD) Executive Vice President of Commercial Operations Kevin Young -- the company's top drug salesman -- announced his retirement on Monday night.

Young will leave Gilead on Feb. 4 after 10 years at the company in which he oversaw the launch of eight therapies. One of those products -- the fixed-dose, single-pill combination of HIV medicines Viread and Emtriva known as Truvada -- transformed Gilead into the highly successful, big-cap biopharmaceutical firm it is today.

Gilead annual revenue grew from $1.24 billion in 2004 to nearly $10 billion in 2012.

While Young deserves his huzzahs, his retirement is a surprise and comes at an awkward time for Gilead. Investors have incredibly high expectations for the recently approved hepatitis C pill Sovaldi, which is supposed to essentially rid the world of the liver disease and generate tens of billions of dollars in revenue for the company.

Obviously, Young is not a one-man sales team and his people have had ample time to prepare for Sovaldi's launch. Still, dont be surprised if Wall Street worries a little about the timing of Youngs retirement at least until Gilead puts up big Sovaldi sales numbers.

J.P. Morgan analyst Geoff Meacham addressed the Young retirement issue and assuaged clients in a note Monday night.

The timing of the departure is somewhat of a surprise to us, given the recent approval/launch of Sovaldi in Hep C, in what is likely to be a treatment-paradigm-shifting launch over the next several years. That said, our sense is that the team working on the Sovaldi commercialization has largely been intact for 2+ years, which should help smooth the initial stages of launch. Additionally, we would be not surprised if Gilead promoted someone from the team internally to fill the role, rather than look externally, given the working knowledge base required for both the HIV and Hep C businesses and the fact that Kevin has had a "large team," with some people working together with him for over a decade.

Young didn't offer a reason for retiring from Gilead but it needs to be said that he's been selling an absolute ton of Gilead stock in recent months.

Since August, Young has sold approximately $17 million in Gilead shares. That's just since August, so excludes all prior stock sales and the rest of his compensation.

Young is rich.

And he's not the only Gilead suit cashing out. The top five executives at Gilead have sold almost $220 million in company stock since August.

CEO John Martin take: $92 million in Gilead stock sold since this summer. John Milligan, Gilead's No. 2, has net $73 million from insider sales in the same time period.

A good slug of the stock was sold at prices in the low $70 range -- essentially where Gilead trades today. Gilead closed Monday at $73.24.

It's hard to blame Gilead executives for ringing the cash register at a time when the company is on a roll and shareholders have also been able to pocket incredible wealth.

But $220 million in Gilead insider sales since this summer -- on the cusp of a tremendously important start to the company's new hepatitis C drug business -- is just too big to ignore.

"Gilead management has long argued that stock options are part of their compensation. They're always hefty sellers. Mr. Market isn't going to like it, but at least they have the J.P. Morgan conference next week to convince investors all is okay," said a hedge fund manager who is long Gilead. "The bigger question is whether there's a motivation issue at Gilead. The top executives are all insanely rich. Are they motivated to keep kicking ass?"

One thing's certain: Young can afford to buy his own gold watch.

Adam Feuerstein writes regularly for TheStreet. In keeping with company editorial policy, he doesn't own or short individual stocks, although he owns stock in TheStreet. He also doesn't invest in hedge funds or other private investment partnerships. Feuerstein appreciates your feedback; click here to send him an email.

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