The Numbers Backing Gilead's Best and Fastest Drug Launch in History

Now that Gilead Sciences  (GILD) has won U.S. approval for Sovaldi, investors will shift quickly to focus on tracking the hepatitis C drug's commercial launch.

Gilead is expected to sell a lot of Sovaldi -- and fast. Sell-side analysts, on average, are forecasting U.S. sales of $2.2 billion in 2014, ramping to $6.1 billion in 2015 and $8.5 billion in 2016.

Institutional investors, on average, believe first-year Sovaldi sales will total $2.6 billion, according to a recent survey conducted by ISI Group analyst Mark Schoenebaum.

How does Gilead get to $2 billion-plus in Sovaldi sales in a single year?

The company hasn't provided any sales guidance for the hepatitis C pill yet but here's the roadmap predicted by sell-side analysts:

The company will use the first quarter of 2014 as warm up, delivering "just" $194 million in Sovaldi revenue. The accelerator hits the floor in the second quarter 2014 with sales jumping to $419 million. Third quarter: $611 million. Fourth quarter: $869 million.

[These quarter estimates adds up to $2.1 billion, which is the "old" analyst consensus from two weeks ago. Numbers are already going up.]

Don't worry if you're having a hard time fathoming how a single drug can deliver $2 billion-plus in its first year on the market. It's never been done before.

Vertex Pharmaceuticals'  (VRTX) hepatitis C drug Incivek is the current "Fastest Drug Launch Ever" champion.

Approved in May 2011, here's what Incivek sales looked like its first four quarters: $75 million, $420 million, $457 million, $357 million. Total: $1.3 billion.

So, the first year of Gilead's Sovaldi launch is supposed look like Incivek times two.

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