BeiGene CEO Oyler nabs a $15M thank-you bonus, pushing 2018 pay to $27.9M

Having secured a deal with Celgene in 2017 and poached a seasoned Pfizer commercial exec in 2018, BeiGene CEO John Oyler got a one-time, $15 million equity award in 2018. (BeiGene)

One CEO has reaped early benefits from the hype around China’s booming biotech industry.

John Oyler, founder, CEO and chairman of BeiGene—one of the most talked-about Chinese biotechs—racked up $27.9 million in 2018 total pay, a securities filing shows. That nearly tripled the $10.3 million he pulled down in 2017. It ranks him above several Big Pharma and Big Biotech execs—and he's surpassed only by Teva Pharmaceutical CEO Kåre Schultz, according to FiercePharma’s tally so far.

But Oyler's monster paycheck may be just a flash in the pan.

BeiGene’s board gave Oyler a 10% salary bump, and the $650,000 was in about the 25th percentile among his 16 peers that include executives from the likes of Alnylam, FibroGen, Incyte, Seattle Genetics and Tesaro. His share awards, though, soared in value compared with 2017.

Oyler netted about the same number of performance shares as he did the previous year. In 2018, he collected equity grants worth 1.5 million BeiGene shares—80% in stock options and 20% restricted stock units. But because BeiGene’s shares jumped during the period, those awards leapt in value, too, from $9.1 million in 2017 to $11.6 million in 2018.

But the real difference came from a one-time, long-term incentive award valued at $15 million. BeiGene's board handed Oyler that equity bonus last April “in recognition of his extraordinary leadership and our achievements in 2017 and 2018 to date,” according to the company's securities filing.

The Chinese biotech has indeed made great progress over the past two years. In 2017, BeiGene teamed up with Celgene on a PD-1 inhibitor, snaring a $263 million upfront payment in the process. That drug, tislelizumab, is under Chinese review for relapsed and refractory classical Hodgkin lymphoma and in mid- or late-stage studies in other cancer types.

Also under that 2017 deal, Celgene made a $150 million investment in BeiGene and offloaded its Chinese operations to the biotech as well. With that, BeiGene leapt onto the commercial stage, armed with Celgene drugs Revlimid, Abraxane and Vidaza on the Chinese mainland. Those drugs generated $130.9 million last year for BeiGene.

But the partnership's future is uncertain now that Celgene is merging with Opdivo-maker Bristol-Myers Squibb. Market watchers worry  BMS will abandon tislelizumab, leaving BeiGene to navigate global development and marketing on its own.

Oyler totted up some other accomplishments, too. He pushed BeiGene to a $900 million IPO in Hong Kong, though its stock price has dropped nearly 30% since the debut in August. And as part of his commercial ambitions, he lured Pfizer exec Xiaobin Wu to be BeiGene's president and general manager in China.

Wu previously headed up Pfizer China for almost 10 years and established Pfizer as the leading multinational pharma in China by sales. But BeiGene lured him over, and his 2018 pay package—which included a handsome sign-up bonus of nearly 2 million BeiGene shares—reached $21.5 million, easily surpassing many Big Pharma CEO packages.

In addition to Wu, BeiGene’s total workforce has swelled from 300 to more than 1,000, thanks in part to the Celgene transaction.

Despite the marketed drugs, R&D is still the focus at BeiGene: Performance against clinical development and regulatory goals determined 45% of executives’ cash bonus, compared with 10% for commercial milestones. On that front, the company’s BTK inhibitor zanubrutinib won an FDA breakthrough designation in January in previously treated patients with mantle cell lymphoma. While that label is quite common among Western biopharmas, zanubrutinib's breakthrough tag marked the first for a therapy discovered in China.