John C. Martin, the chief executive officer of Gilead Sciences Inc., has become a billionaire on the prospects of a powerful new hepatitis C drug that’s attracting scrutiny from payers and activists over its $1,000 per pill price tag.

Gilead’s drug, Sovaldi, was approved in December, and is among the first of a new wave of hepatitis C treatments that can cure the liver disease faster and more reliably than previous drugs. Sovaldi, which costs $84,000 for a 12-week course of treatment, is expected to produce $4.2 billion in revenue this year, rising to $8.1 billion in 2015, according to the average estimate of 13 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg.

“This is a huge change in the approach to hepatitis C treatment,” Leonard Berkowitz, chief of infectious diseases at the Brooklyn Hospital Center, said by phone. Sovaldi and other drugs like it are producing “spectacular improvements” in cure rates with minimal toxicity, he said.

Martin, who joined Gilead in 1990 and became CEO six years later, helped the company become the world’s largest maker of HIV medicines by developing drug combinations that are easy to use for patients, including a medicine called Atripla that combines three HIV-suppressing drugs and a pill with four anti- HIV drugs called Stribild.

Gilead, based in Foster City, California, is competing with AbbVie Inc., Johnson & Johnson, Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. and others to develop similar combinations for hepatitis C, a virus that infects 3.2 million Americans and can lead to liver failure over time.

Hidden Billionaire

Companies are racing to come up with oral regimens that eliminate the need for interferon, a standard injected drug that can cause flu-like side-effects. In February, Gilead applied for U.S. approval for an interferon-free treatment that combines Sovaldi and another hepatitis C drug.

“Most people think the combination pill that Gilead has will be the biggest thing ever in hepatitis C,” said Berkowitz, who treats many HIV-positive positive patients who are co- infected with HCV.

Martin, 62, has a net worth of $1.2 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. He owns 4.2 million shares of Gilead and 6.4 million vested options, according to filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. He’s also sold more than $550 million in Gilead stock since 2002, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Organic Chemistry