Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, as researchers scrambled to find medicines that could treat the new and mysterious disease, Gilead Sciences’ remdesivir quickly marched to worldwide prominence based on promising early data.

Now, with a full FDA approval in hand, Veklury is pulling in big sales—and has a big 2021 ahead, execs said.

Gilead’s Veklury, formerly known as remdesivir, generated $2.8 billion in 2020. Most of the haul came from the fourth quarter, when hospitalizations and treatments peaked on a recent surge in COVID-19 cases, the drugmaker said. The drug pulled in a whopping $1.93 billion in the fourth quarter after generating $873 million during the third quarter of 2020. 

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After initial studies, Veklury scored an FDA emergency use authorization in May and a full approval in October. Experts have debated data from various studies, but Gilead contends that Veklury remains the standard of care in hospitalized patients.

Now, even amid vaccine rollouts, the devastating state of the pandemic means many patients are still being hospitalized around the world. Gilead is projecting $2 billion to $3 billion in Veklury sales in 2021.  

RELATED: Gilead scored a full FDA approval for COVID-19 drug Veklury, but experts aren’t convinced 

Gilead isn’t the only drugmaker earning billions in revenues thanks to a fast response to the pandemic. Pfizer projects $15 billion in vaccine revenues this year, and Moderna’s CEO has said the company could join the ranks of the top vaccine players by revenue by year-end. Eli Lilly expects between $1 billion and $2 billion from its antibody this year.

Outside of Veklury, Gilead’s 2020 sales fell 3% to $21.5 billion as generic versions of Truvada and Atripla took a bite out of sales. In the fourth quarter, the company’s flagship HIV business fell 7% to $4.26 billion on those generics and pricing pressure. 

But looking forward, Gilead expects growth in the “short term,” “medium term” and “long run,” CFO Andrew Dickinson said on Thursday’s conference call with analysts. The company expects high-single digit growth in its “core business,” which excludes Veklury and recent losses of exclusivity. HIV med Biktarvy, cancer med Trodelvy and chronic hep B treatment Vemlidy—plus cell therapy offerings—are expected to drive the growth. 

RELATED: COVID-19 fighter remdesivir racks up $873M as Gilead plays defense on unflattering WHO data 

“While there remains uncertainty with the pandemic, we are making certain assumptions regarding the recovery in underlying market dynamics starting in the second quarter of 2021,” Dickinson said. 

For 2021, the drugmaker expects between $21.7 billion and $22.1 billion in sales, excluding Veklury. With Veklury included, Gilead expects $23.7 billion to $25.1 billion.