Gilead Sciences Inc (GILD), which ignited a fierce debate over prescription drug prices, said its new $1,000 hepatitis C pill generated quarterly sales of $2.27 billion, helping the company's quarterly net profit nearly triple.

The Foster City, California-based company on Tuesday reported net income for the quarter of $2.23 billion, or $1.33 a share, up from $722 million, or 43 cents a share, a year earlier.

After one-time items, Gilead said it earned $1.48 per share, which beat Wall Street estimates by some 50 cents a share.

"It's pretty remarkable that they can generate $2.3 billion in revenue (from hepatitis C drug Sovaldi) in the first 3 months on the market," said Sanford Bernstein analyst Geoffrey Porges. "People's numbers are going to go up dramatically for this year and next for Gilead."

The company's revenue doubled to $5 billion, beating by a wide margin the $3.98 billion average Wall Street analyst forecast, as compiled by Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Gilead's decision to price its Sovaldi hepatitis C drug, which was approved by U.S. regulators in December, at $84,000 for a 12-week course of therapy has rankled lawmakers and insurers, spurring an outcry over the rising costs of specialty medicines.

The company continued to exclude sales of Sovaldi and other hepatitis C drugs from its forecast for 2014 product sales, which it still expects to total between $11.3 billion and $11.5 billion.

Gilead, the world's largest maker of branded HIV drugs, said overall sales of antiviral drugs rose to $4.51 billion in the quarter from $2.06 billion a year earlier.

UnitedHealth Group Inc, the largest U.S. health insurer, said last week that its first quarter costs to cover Sovaldi were much higher than expected, but it anticipated spending would moderate after the first big wave of patients are treated with the drug.

Pharmacy plan manager Express Scripts suggested its clients should stop using Sovaldi once rival products are on the market. Democratic lawmakers in the House of Representatives, led by California's Henry Waxman, have asked Gilead to explain the pricing on Sovaldi.

Before the new drug was available, patients infected with the liver-destroying hepatitis C virus had to be treated for at least six months with several drugs, including interferon, an injected medicine that can cause severe flu-like symptoms, and ribavirin, which can casue rash, anemia and other side effects.

Those regimens were shown in clinical trials to cure around 75 percent of patients, compared with Sovaldi's cure rate of more than 90 percent.

Gilead is awaiting U.S. approval for a combination of Sovaldi and experimental drug ledipasvir that would allow more patients to be cured of the virus with a single-pill regimen.

Around 3.2 million Americans are infected with hepatitis C, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The World Health Organization estimates that globally, 150 million people are infected with the virus. 

(Reporting by Deena Beasley; Editing by Leslie Adler and Chizu Nomiyama)