The top 20 highest-paid biopharma CEOs

After 7 years of compiling executive pay numbers, we at FiercePharma have learned a bit about the pharma compensation landscape. Rules to research by, let's call them. The first and biggest: Sales figures don't matter.

The world's biggest drug companies by revenue don't all hand out pay packages of at least $18.6 million, which is the threshold for this year's top-paid CEOs list. A collection of Big Pharma chiefs stay off that list year after year. AstraZeneca's ($AZN) Pascal Soriot, for instance. GlaxoSmithKline's ($GSK) Andrew Witty. And this year, both Joe Jimenez of Novartis ($NVS) and Severin Schwan of Roche ($RHHBY) fell several million short of the cutoff.

Then there's the converse: Big pay packages don't reflect a company's size.

A few CEOs beat their companies onto the big money lists--John Martin at Gilead Sciences ($GILD), for one; he's been on our executive-pay list for several years, while Gilead joined the Big Pharma top 10 this year.

Other companies that richly reward their CEOs remain nowhere near the sales level required to bust into biopharma's top 20. Look no further than the top slot on this year's list for evidence of that. Regeneron ($REGN) CEO Len Schleifer wears the compensation crown once again, and though his company certainly has tallied big accomplishments in recent years, its marketed products can be counted on one hand, and its top line was just $2.82 billion in 2014.

Then there's one of the newcomers to our CEO pay list, Martine Rothblatt of United Therapeutics ($UTHR), whose total compensation hit $33.2 million for the year. Her company reported $1.3 billion in 2014 revenue, up from $1.1 billion in 2013.

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One other thing we've come to expect that's more of a trend than a rule: Just as new names are shouldering into the ranks of the world's biggest drugmakers, so are new names popping up in the highest-paid executives club. We mentioned Rothblatt; this year, there's also Jeffrey Leiden at Vertex ($VRTX), who bagged a package worth a cool $36.6 million. And Brent Saunders, whose series of job leaps over the past few years might be the most lucrative in pharma history; now CEO at Allergan ($AGN), neé Actavis, which just swallowed Allergan in a $66 billion deal and adopted its name. His compensation report barely trailed Leiden's.

We'll let you read on for the rest. We collected the figures from public proxy filings, annual reports, and other securities documents. Let us know what you think--and tell us whether we missed anyone this time around. We'll be sure to check their next set of numbers. To look at last year's, check out the 15 Highest-Paid Biopharma CEOs of 2013. -- Tracy Staton (email | Twitter)

The top 20 highest-paid biopharma CEOs 1. Len Schleifer, Regeneron Image removed.$41.97 million Image removed.

Schleifer may have popped up on our CEO pay list just a few years ago--and stayed at or near the top--but he's been plugging away at Regeneron since he founded the company in 1988. All that work didn't deliver a big sales bang till its eye drug Eylea won approval in 2011. More

2. Jeffrey Leiden, Vertex Pharmaceuticals Image removed.$36.64 million Image removed.

What happens when a CEO's pay more than doubles in one year? If we're talking about Vertex Pharmaceuticals and Jeffrey Leiden, proxy advisers tell shareholders to vote down the company's compensation plan. More

3. Brent Saunders, Allergan (formerly Actavis) Image removed.$36.61 million Image removed.

Brent Saunders' upward trajectory has taken him from the CEO suite at Bausch & Lomb (till it sold to Valeant) to the top job at Forest Laboratories (till it sold to Actavis) to the top job at Actavis, until it bought Allergan and took on its target's name. Now, he's CEO at that combined company, and his pay has hit a career high. More

4. Martine Rothblatt, United Therapeutics Image removed.$33.21 million Image removed.

Last year, Martine Rothblatt wasn't just the highest-paid female CEO in biopharma, but in the U.S., period. This year's total is down slightly--to $33 million from $38 million in 2013--but she's still the best-paid female in the industry. She's also a transgender woman, a fact that landed her on the cover of New York magazine last year. More

5. Lamberto Andreotti, Bristol-Myers Squibb Image removed.$27.06 million Image removed.

A perennial entry on the highest-paid CEOs list, Andreotti is making his last appearance for 2014. He handed over the reins at Bristol-Myers Squibb to Giovanni Caforio in May 2015, though he'll remain executive chairman till August and nonexecutive chairman after that. And he's going out on a high note, at more than $27 million in total pay. More

6. Heather Bresch, Mylan Image removed.$25.82 million Image removed.

Heather Bresch has taken a bit of a back seat in the media lately to Mylan Chairman Robert Coury, the company's outspoken mouthpiece, as it works to fight off an unwanted takeover by Teva Pharmaceutical Industries. But Bresch hasn't exactly been silent. More

7. Kenneth Frazier, Merck & Co. Image removed.$25.03 million Image removed.

Merck & Co. had a good year in 2014, and that means Ken Frazier had a good year, too. On the M&A side, he sold off Merck's consumer health business for $14 billion to Bayer, pushed through a $9.5 billion buyout of Cubist, the antibiotic specialist, and wrapped up a hepatitis C-focused deal for Idenix Pharmaceuticals, a $3.8 billion buy. Plus, Frazier and his R&D team celebrated the approval of Keytruda, their cancer immunotherapy. More

8. Alex Gorsky, Johnson & Johnson Image removed.$24.99 million Image removed.

Alex Gorsky got a big lift in pay for 2014, moving from $16.9 million in 2013 to just shy of $25 million. Some accounting changes did represent part of that increase, but not all of it--and Johnson & Johnson's financials show why. More

9. Robert Hugin, Celgene Image removed.$24.24 million Image removed.

Celgene's Bob Hugin might have been beat out by the CEOs of fellow biologic drugmakers Regeneron and Vertex on this list, but he's still the highest-paid executive in Big Biotech--and he beats out quite a few in Big Pharma as well. More

10. Ian Read, Pfizer Image removed.$23.28 million Image removed.

Pfizer CEO Ian Read made the biggest headlines last year for trying--and failing--to pull off what would have been the biggest deal of 2014, his proposed $100 billion-plus buyout of AstraZeneca. And Pfizer's forecast for 2015 is somewhat stormy, what with early Celebrex generics taking a bite out of the top line. Still, Read got something of a pay bump for 2014, with a total package of $23.3 million--more than one-quarter bigger than the previous year's total. More

11. Richard Gonzalez, AbbVie Image removed.$22.01 million Image removed.

For the first couple of years after AbbVie's debut as an independent pharma company, CEO Richard Gonzalez didn't collect the chart-topping pay enjoyed by Abbott Laboratories chief Miles White. Far from it, in fact: Gonzalez collected a mere $8 million in 2012 pay. That's not so true anymore. More

12. Leonard Bell, Alexion Pharmaceuticals (retired as of April) Image removed.$20.57 million Image removed.

Until April, Leonard Bell was the only CEO Alexion Pharmaceuticals ever had. Now upstairs in the chairman's seat, Bell ended his tenure as CEO on a high note, with $20.57 million in total compensation--a nice jump from the $13 million-plus he earned for 2013. More

13. John Martin, Gilead Sciences Image removed.$18.96 million Image removed.

For a record-smashing year that vaulted Gilead Sciences into the ranks of pharma's global top 10, CEO John Martin snared a comparatively small payoff. True, Martin's 2014 compensation grew by $3.5 million, to almost $19 million. The patient advocates who protest Gilead's aggressively high prices--not to mention payers looking for bigger discounts--might say it's more than enough. But other biotech chiefs took down more for their 2014 performances. More

14. Joseph Papa, Perrigo Image removed.$18.95 million Image removed.

Perrigo has been on something of an acquisition binge lately, capped by a deal for fellow OTC drug specialist Omega Pharma last fall, aimed at amping up its presence in Europe and fueling international growth. Along the way, Perrigo has grown from a $620 million drugmaker in 2011 to $4.2 billion in 2014. And last year, Papa reaped his own increase--$18.95 million in compensation, up from just $6.1 million in 2013. More

15. George Scangos, Biogen Image removed.$18.63 million Image removed.

Biogen has been on a growth streak, fueled by its multiple sclerosis hotshot pill Tecfidera. It recently rolled out two next-gen hemophilia drugs. And it has whetted investors' appetite with early-stage results for an Alzheimer's drug that--if successful, and that's a big if--could zoom to $5 billion in peak sales. CEO George Scangos has watched his pay grow, too. Scangos totted up $18.6 million for 2014, up from $15 million in 2013 and $13.45 million the year before that. More

16. David Pyott, Allergan (formerly) Image removed.$17.79 million Image removed.

David Pyott's biggest achievement for 2014 may be what he didn't do. The Allergan chairman and CEO fought long and hard to keep Valeant Pharmaceuticals ($VRX) from taking over his company, engineering a $66 billion sale to ambitious Actavis instead. The much-sweetened price did shareholders a favor (including himself, but we'll get to that). And that long slog through 2014 earned Pyott $17.79 million in total compensation, a $2.8 million boost from the previous year. More

17. Robert Parkinson, Baxter International Image removed.$15.30 million Image removed.

Baxter chief Robert Parkinson makes a perennial appearance on the list of biopharma's top-paid CEOs, and this year is no exception, despite a slight dip in his overall compensation. Parkinson netted $15.3 million for 2014, a step down from the $16.2 million he picked up in 2013 and the $17.5 million he pocketed the year before that. More

18. John Lechleiter, Eli Lilly & Co. Image removed.$14.48 million Image removed.

Eli Lilly & Co. has been hunkered down over the past few lean years, and CEO John Lechleiter participated by forgoing any salary increases. Last year, he and the rest of Lilly took a hit to bonus pay, too. But thanks to some pension accounting, Lechleiter's 2014 total still increased by $3 million over 2013. More

19. Flemming Ornskov, Shire Image removed.$14.22 million Image removed.

Shire revenue skyrocketed by 23% in 2014, thanks to solid drug sales growth and a $4.2 billion deal for rare disease drugmaker ViroPharma, which closed in January. CEO Flemming Ornskov targeted $10 billion in sales by 2020, and along the way picked up a pay package worth $14.22 million, including more than $10 million in performance-based equity awards that won't pay off till 2017. More

20. Robert Bradway, Amgen Image removed.$13.96 million Image removed.

In a year when several of his peers won big payoffs for one extraordinary reason or another, Amgen CEO Robert Bradway earned just about as much as he had the previous year, give or take a few hundred thousand. Small comfort--though some comfort, perhaps--to the thousands of employees facing job cuts as Amgen prepares for biosimilar competition to its top-selling meds. More

 

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