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Andrew Dunn and Leah Rosenbaum
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- Insider got exclusive data on the highest-paid CEOs in the pharma and biotech industries in 2021.
- The research firm MyLogIQ identified 15 CEOs that made at least $25 million last year.
- These leaders are in charge of keeping their companies afloat in the current market downturn.
Fifteen pharma and biotech CEOs made more than $25 million in 2021, according to data provided exclusively to Insider from the research firm MyLogIQ.
2021 was a boom time for pharma, with record levels of IPOs and funding. CEOs also took advantage, bringing in pay packages as high as $380 million for the year. Experts don't anticipate that boom will continue this year however — the biotech market has already dropped 42% since the beginning of 2022, and these CEOs are in charge of steering their companies through the market downturn.
In identifying the CEOs who made the most, Insider worked with MyLogIQ to analyze 461 life-sciences companies that had filed proxy statements with the Securities and Exchange Commission by April 29. Most of the CEOs had high base salaries and bonuses, but the bulk of compensation came from equity awards — shares and stock options. In most cases, restricted shares only vest if the CEO stays at the company until a certain date or achieves specific milestones. With options, a company's stock price needs to increase to be valuable. This analysis looked at the values of stocks and options when the companies received them, which is how the SEC requires companies to report the total compensation of executives — but that doesn't mean cash in the bank just yet.
The research firm also found typical CEO compensation has nearly doubled since 2019. Median compensation rose from $2.8 million in 2019 to $5.1 million in 2021; the average pay level jumped from $4.7 million to $8.1 million in that timespan. MyLogIQ's CEO, Ganesh Rajappan, told Insider this jump in biopharma CEO pay outpaced the S&P 500.
"While median CEO pay in the S&P 500 increased about 16% in the last three years, we saw median pay rise by over 80% among pharmaceutical and biotech firms," Rajappan said. "The increase is largely driven by increases in equity pay, which has been a feature of executive compensation since the Great Recession."
Altogether, this group of 15 CEOs reflects the different types of businesses that make up the drug industry. There's a mix of large pharma companies like Johnson & Johnson, tiny biotechs like Relmada Therapeutics and Olema Pharmaceuticals, and financially stressed firms like ImmunityBio and Endo International.
The list also shows the industry's lack of gender diversity, as all 15 best-paid CEOs are men. That's a step down from last year's list, where one of the 17 best-paid CEOs was a woman. The one woman on last year's list, Precigen CEO Helen Sabzevari, was promoted in 2020 and given a one-time equity-award grant of $17.5 million. Her compensation for 2021 was $2.5 million.
Here are the 15 highest-paid pharma and biotech CEOs of 2021, from lowest to highest:
BridgeBio Pharma CEO Neil Kumar: $25,626,959
Neil Kumar has led the California biotech BridgeBio since its founding in 2014, with the firm going public in 2019. The biotech has hit a rough stretch recently, with a key clinical-trial failure in December followed by two rounds of layoffs in 2022 to preserve funds.
The board decided to not pay Kumar a performance bonus in 2021 because of that study setback, according to BridgeBio's proxy filing. But Kumar still took in a pay package valued at over $25 million in 2021, largely because the board accelerated a second round of stock options last December before that study failure, citing competition for talent and BridgeBio's declining stock price.
The company noted in its proxy that all these options are underwater, meaning BridgeBio's stock would need to increase for them to be worth money. BridgeBio's share price has fallen 86% over the past year.
Kumar said his reported 2021 pay was artificially higher because the board awarded options last December that it expected to grant in 2022. In its proxy filing, the company states that 2022 compensation "is expected to be markedly lower" because of this timing.
"The stated compensation in this article is an artifact and two times higher due to our compensation calendar being pulled forward," Kumar told Insider. "Our goal, as always, is to marry compensation with performance for patients and investors. A high degree of performance was not achieved last year."
ATAI Life Sciences CEO Florian Brand: $26,521,870
Founded in 2018, ATAI Life Sciences is researching psychedelics and digital therapeutics to treat mental illnesses. The biotech went public in June 2021 and has since seen its stock price fall about 80%.
Florian Brand cofounded the biotech, jumping over from a German kitchen-appliances company called Springlane. His 2021 pay package included $21 million in stock awards and $4.6 million in options.
Former Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky: $26,741,959
After serving as CEO of the world's largest healthcare company for a decade, Alex Gorsky stepped down at the beginning of 2022. He made more than $26 million in 2021 — slightly down from the nearly $30 million he made the year before but still enough to land him a spot among the best-paid industry CEOs.
A J&J spokesperson told Insider that Gorsky's pay reflects the company's performance.
"We believe Johnson & Johnson's executive pay program adheres to best practices, based on the guiding principles of competitiveness, pay for performance, accountability for short-term and long-term performance, and alignment with the interests of our stakeholders," the spokesperson wrote in a statement.
IQVIA Holdings CEO Ari Bousbib: $28,615,851
Healthcare-data analytics company IQVIA came from the merger of two companies — IMS Health and Quintiles — in 2016. At the time, Ari Bousbib was the chair and CEO of IMS Health and quickly assumed the same positions at IQVIA.
As the top-paid CEO in the "research triangle" area of North Carolina, Bousbib's compensation went up nearly 12% in the past year, according to Axios.
Endo International CEO Blaise Coleman: $28,994,250
Blaise Coleman is hoping to turn around the troubled drugmaker Endo, which is facing more than 3,000 opioid-related lawsuits and is over $8 billion in debt. Coleman became CEO in March 2020 after serving as Endo's chief financial officer.
The board boosted Coleman's yearly pay with accelerated cash payments in November 2021 to its top executives, which it said the company needed to retain its leadership during an "uncertain period." Endo can claw back those early payments if Coleman doesn't achieve certain financial and operating performance goals.
ImmunityBio CEO Richard Adcock: $29,016,727
Richard Adcock runs ImmunityBio, the billionaire scientist-entrepreneur Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong's main company.
While the company faces a murky financial future, particularly with a $300 million loan up for repayment in December, Adcock took in a considerable payday in his first full year on the job. Stock options and restricted shares that will vest over the next few years made up most of his $29 million pay package.
Olema Oncology CEO Sean Bohen: $33,235,500
Sean Bohen became the CEO of Olema Oncology in 2020 after working at AstraZeneca for three and a half years as its chief medical officer. Bohen is also a non-executive director of two other biotech companies, Gyroscope Therapeutics and AltruBio.
Olema focuses on women's cancers, and currently has one treatment, OP-1250, in early-stage clinical trials for metastatic breast cancer. But after mixed clinical-trial data at the end of 2021, its stock has dropped nearly 90% in the past six months.
Last year, Bohen's total compensation jumped nearly 70% – from $10.6 million in 2020 to $33.2 million in 2021. In a statement to Insider, a spokesperson from Olema said that the majority of executive compensation comes from the stock options, which have a calculated value at the time executives receive them. "Our Board retains an independent compensation advisor and utilizes peer benchmarking when evaluating executive compensation," the spokesperson said.
Atea Pharmaceuticals CEO Jean-Pierre Sommadossi: $34,104,892
Jean-Pierre Sommadossi is a seasoned biotech executive who founded Atea Pharmaceuticals in 2012. Atea develops small-molecule drugs that target RNA viruses — including Hepatitis C, dengue viruses, and COVID-19.
Last year, its mid-stage clinical trial of a COVID-19 antiviral flopped, leading to a its partnership with Roche dissolving. But it's still working on the drug, and in a recent earnings call Sommadossi touted new clinical-trial data that showed a 71% reduction of hospitalizations associated with the drug — though the drug didn't reduce the length of COVID-19 symptoms, which was its original goal.
The majority of Sommadossi's compensation is in stock options, though his base pay rose 15% in 2021 according to company SEC documents. "The Atea stock price would need to exceed $73/share before Dr. Sommadossi would realize any compensatory value from these options. Therefore, his actual, realizable pay in 2021 was in fact a small fraction (2.8%) of [$34,104,892]," an Atea company spokesperson said.
Instil Bio CEO Bronson Crouch: $35,775,826
Bronson Crouch has been the chair and CEO of Instil Bio since 2018. Last year, he led the company through a $320 million IPO.
The Dallas-based company is working on a new type of cancer treatment called tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes, or TILs. In cancer patients, these types of cells naturally invade tumors and kill cancerous cells.
Instil's plan is to take some of these cells out of a cancer patient, manufacture more of them in a lab, and then reinfuse them into the patient for a tumor-fighting boost. The company's treatments are still in early-stage clinical trials, with Instil likely not releasing efficacy data until 2023.
Relmada Therapeutics CEO Sergio Traversa: $35,827,164
Sergio Traversa joined Relmada as CEO in 2012. Before joining Relmada, Traversa was CEO of the biotech company Medeor Therapeutics, which spun out of Cornell University.
Relmada develops treatment for diseases of the central nervous system, with an emphasis on major depressive disorder. In a May earnings call, Traversa said that he expects the company to get critical clinical-trial data about its lead drug candidate, called REL-1017, by mid-year 2022.
In 2021, the company also began dipping its toes in the psychedelics space with in-licensing rights to a new psilocybin compound from private company Arbormentis in a deal worth $15 million up front.
Most of Traversa's compensation is in the form of stock options, but he had a base salary of $630,000 — with an additional $315,000 bonus — in 2021.
TG Therapeutics CEO Michael Weiss: $42,666,831
Michael Weiss founded TG Therapeutics in 2011 and serves as the company's CEO, chair, and president. A lawyer by training, he was previously the CEO of Keryx Biopharmaceuticals from 2004 to 2009.
TG Therapeutics focuses on creating treatments for B-cell diseases, which include some cancers and autoimmune disorders like multiple sclerosis. Early last year, the FDA granted the biotech an accelerated approval in the US for its drug Ukoniq to treat relapsed marginal-zone lymphoma.
But in April, the company voluntarily pulled Ukoniq from the market after new research questioned the safety of the medication class it belongs to. In a press release announcing the drug withdrawal, Weiss said that the company would pivot away from cancer and focus more on its multiple sclerosis treatment.
Royalty Pharma CEO Pablo Legorreta: $49,513,461
Royalty Pharma has dominated a lucrative niche market in the drug industry, buying up royalties for dozens of experimental and commercialized drugs.
Its founder and longtime leader Pablo Legorreta has turned into a staple on this list, bringing in more than $55 million last year and following with a nearly $50 million payday in 2021. Over the past three years, the former investment banker has reported more than $133 million in total compensation.
The biotech downturn has not significantly affected Royalty, with its stock price holding steady over the past year. After spending $3 billion on deals in 2021, Royalty expects to stay busy, recently forecasting it will spend $10 billion to $12 billion on deals over the next five years.
Sage Therapeutics CEO Barry Greene: $58,864,150
Barry Greene, a former Alnylam executive, joined Sage as its CEO in December 2020.
Sage is a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based biotech focused on psychiatric treatments, selling one FDA-approved drug to treat postpartum depression. The company has a range of experimental treatments in human trials to treat ailments such as depression, anxiety, and Parkinson's disease.
Stock options he received as a new hire drove Greene's 2021 pay, valued at $57.6 million. However, most of those options will only vest if Greene leads the company to its second and third FDA-approved drugs, along with hitting a cumulative revenue target.
The options had an exercise price of $85.82 — Sage's stock price in January 2021 — and the company's stock has since dropped by 60%. For those options to be lucrative, Greene will also have to drastically increase Sage's stock price, which is currently trading around $31.
A Sage spokeperson added the company anticipates Greene's 2022 pay will "decrease significantly" because these new-hire awards were a one-time event.
Kodiak Sciences CEO Victor Perlroth: $113,371,207
Victor Perlroth has been the chair and CEO of Kodiak Sciences since he cofounded the company in 2009.
Kodiak is trying to create a portfolio of products to treat retinal disease, including macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy. It has one drug candidate called KSI-301 in late-stage clinical trials.
Kodiak's stocks cratered almost 90% in late February after the company reported that its clinical trial using KSI-301 to treat wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD) did not meet its primary endpoint – and the stock price still hasn't recovered. This summer the company plans to release data for its clinical trial studying KSI-301 in retinal-vein occlusion — a condition where blood clots block veins in the retina.
A spokesperson for Kodiak said that in 2021, Perlroth opted in to a long-term performance plan in which he agreed to forgo up to 75% of his annual performance option awards and service-based annual equity-incentive awards for the next seven years. Instead, he recieved a one-time grant of performance-based stock options that was then valued at $95.5 million.
This was a gamble on Perlroth's part — according to the spokesperson, as of April 2022 the value of these stocks were "substantially lower at $1,085,829 reflecting the reduction in the per-share trading price of the Company's common stock following the release of data from the Company's initial Phase 2b/3 study in wet AMD."
Ginkgo Bioworks CEO Jason Kelly: $380,742,276
The drug industry's highest-paid CEO of 2021 also leads one of the industry's more controverisial startups since it went public last year at a $15 billion valuation. At the time, experts questioned that rich valuation and Ginkgo's forecasted growth prospects.
Jason Kelly is the CEO and cofounder of Ginkgo Bioworks, a Boston-based startup that sells its automated synthetic-biology-research capabilities to others. The company went public last year and commanded a valuation as high as $25 billion before crashing in 2022.
Kelly, who often compares Ginkgo to tech giants like Amazon and Tesla, received a tech-industry-sized pay package in 2021 of $381 million. Virtually all of that pay came in restricted shares that won't vest until October 2022. The payout also wasn't a typical one-year compensation plan, as this pay plan was established in January 2020, granting a sizable equity award if the company went public.
A Ginkgo spokesperson also added that the company calculated the $381 million figure using its November share price. Using today's share price, which has fallen by about 80%, those equity awards are currently worth around $70 million.
"We're big believers in equity compensation at Ginkgo, and we're proud that many of our team members, particularly those who have been with the company for many years, have been able to benefit from the growth of the company," a Ginkgo spokesperson told Insider in a statement.
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