Gilead Sciences reported quarterly sales of its new blockbuster hepatitis C drug that beat analyst estimates by more than $1 billion, a victory in the face of criticism over the treatment's $1,000-per-pill price.

The Foster City-based biotechnology company said first-quarter profit was $1.48 a share, beating by 56 cents the analysts' average estimate. Total sales were $5 billion, including $2.27 billion from Sovaldi. Analysts had estimated $1.13 billion for Sovaldi.

Sovaldi sells for $84,000 for a 12-week course of treatment. That cost has attracted scrutiny from health insurers and lawmakers. Pharmacy benefit managers including Express Scripts Holding have said they may try to start a price war once competing medicines from AbbVie and Merck & Co. reach the market.

The results for the hepatitis C drug are "above even the high end of buy-side expectations," Mark Schoenebaum, an analyst with ISI Group in New York, said in a note to clients.

About 30,000 patients have started on the medicine, company executives said on a conference call today. Some of the sales also were from distributors building inventory, Gilead said. Sovaldi is projected by analysts to generate $11.94 billion in 2017.