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Regeneron, Novavax CEOs Top List of Highest Paid in 2020

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·4 min read
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- By Barry Cohen

Shareholders would probably agree that a majority of the 15 highest-paid pharma CEOs earned their money in 2020. The stocks of all but four advanced last year and those in negative territory suffered relatively minor declines.

The head of Novavax Inc. (NASDAQ:NVAX) gave shareholders the biggest bang for their buck. CEO Stanley Erck earned $48 million in 2020, the second-highest total according to Fierce Pharma. On his watch, the Gaithersburg, Maryland-based vaccine maker's shares climbed nearly 3,000% to $220. The company has given back a healthy portion of that gain this year, as the stock has dropped to about $146. Shareholders since 2016 aren't complaining. Until March 2020, the stock had languished, trading at just above $4 as recently July 2019.


Covid-19 thrust Novavax and Erck into the spotlight for their work on a coronavirus vaccine. The biotech has a highly touted candidate that's on the cusp of being introduced to the market. Although Novavax has yet to get any approvals for its shot, the company is hard at work getting its manufacturing plants ready to begin production and negotiating supply pacts.

Erck's compensation package was sweet, but it paled in comparison to the $135 million raked in by Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. (NASDAQ:REGN) CEO Leonard Schleifer. That's a lot of dough, but in Schleifer's defense, Regeneron stock was up nearly 50% last year.

Regeneron also took advantage of the scramble for Covid treatments and shots. The New York-based company obtained emergency approval for its antibody combination in November, becoming the second therapy of its type behind Eli Lilly and Co.'s (NYSE:LLY) twosome. Use of the Regeneron treatment has lagged, but the company is confident a new TV campaign will boost demand.

Speaking of Eli Lilly, its CEO David Ricks put a smile on shareholders' faces, and he did it while grossing a relatively modest sum of about $24 million. The stock gained nearly 50% in 2021 and is off slightly this year to about $200.

The news wasn't quite as good for owners of the stocks of Merck & Co. Inc. (NYSE:MRK), Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. (NYSE:BMY), Biogen Inc. (NASDAQ:BIIB) and Biomarin Pharmaceutical Inc. (NASDAQ:BMRN). The price of all four were in the red in 2020, with Merck's shares experiencing the biggest drop at 10%. The pharma titan's Kenneth Frazier wasn't complaining though. He took home $22 million.

Although Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) shares appreciated by about 9%, some shareholders thought CEO Alex Gorsky didn't deserve his nearly $39 million pay given the $9 million in legal expenses the company incurred defending itself against thousands of opioid and talc powder lawsuits. In their respective reports, proxy advisers Institutional Shareholder Services and Glass Lewis urged shareholders to vote against Gorsky's pay package; they were unsuccessful as the CEO's compensation was approved.

For the second year in a row, no female executives made the list last year. Vertex Pharmaceuticals' (NASDAQ:VRTX) new head Reshma Kewalramani earned just more than $9.11 million for 2020, only about half of what her predecessor made. Meanwhile, Emma Walmsley of GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE:GSK) took a cut of $1.55 million to $9.7 million.

Missing from the fortunate 15 list for the second consecutive year were the top executives at Sanofi (NASDAQ:SNY), Roche (RHHBY) and Novartis (NVS).

Following is the complete list of the 15 highest-paid pharma CEOs. Their total compensation in 2020 was more than $470 million.

Position

CEO

Company

Compensation ($mm)

1.

Len Schleifer

Regeneron

135.35

2.

Stanley Erck

Novavax

48.07

3.

Alex Gorsky

Johnson & Johnson

29.58

4.

Robert Curry

Viatris Inc. (VTRS)

29.06

5.

Richard Gonzalez

AbbVie Inc.(ABBV)

24.00

6.

David Ricks

Eli Lilly

23.70

7.

Ken Frazier

Merck

22.09

8.

Timothy Walbert

Horizon Therapeutics (HZNP)

21.63

9.

Pascal Soriot

AstraZeneca (AZN)

21.52

10.

Albert Bouria

Pfizer Inc. (PFE)

21.03

11.

Giovanni Caforio

Bristol-Myers Squibb

20.15

12.

Robert Bradway

Amgen Inc. (AMGN)

20.13

13.

Daniel O'Day

Gilead Sciences Inc. (GILD)

18.99

14.

Michael Vounastos

Biogen

18.66

15.

Jean-Jacques Bienalme

Biomarin

18.12



Source: Fierce Pharma

Disclosure: The author has positions in Bristol-Myers Squibb, Johnson & Johnson, Sanofi, Eli Lilly, AbbVie, Sanofi and Gilead Sciences.

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This article first appeared on GuruFocus.