Thanks to the successful FDA approval for Soliris follow-up Ultomiris, Alexion CEO Ludwig Hantson nabbed a pay raise in his first full year at the top job, with a number that could well put him among the highest-paid biopharma CEOs.
Officially joining Alexion in March 2017 after a stint at Baxalta, Hantson racked up $16.5 million in 2018 pay, beating Celgene CEO Mark Alles’ $16.2 million package.
According to an SEC filing, Hantson’s base salary, $1.2 million, remained unchanged, though this is the first year he collected the entire amount. His stock awards, as part of Alexion’s long-term incentive plan, swelled to $12.4 million, from $9.6 million in 2017. His cash awards, which were directly tied to the company’s 2018 performance, also climbed as Alexion nailed all key targets.
Specifically, Ultomiris’ regulatory submissions in paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria (PNH) resulted in an early U.S. nod and launch, about two months ahead of the FDA's scheduled decision deadline. That kind of efficient execution helped Hantson and all Alexion executive officers reap the maximum cash awards available to them. For Hantson, that meant double the 2018 target award, which was itself 120% of the base salary.
Under Hantson, Alexion started shifting its strategy from ultrarare diseases to less rare diseases. Looking to get into diseases such as amytrophic lateral sclerosis and primary progressive multiple sclerosis, “we’re talking about multiplying our patient pool by big numbers,” Hantson said at this year’s J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference.
Part of the patient expansion plan includes a new pricing strategy—which could have been harder to implement had Alexion stuck to the previous ultrarare targets. To that end, Alexion offered a 10% discount on maintenance doses of Ultomiris as a potential incentive to convince Soliris patients to switch to the newer drug. Spearheading a “sustainable pricing strategy” for Ultomiris was also praised by the board as one of Hantson’s 2018 achievements.
And it appears to be working. As of January, Alexion had switched about 5% of patients over from Soliris, commercial chief Brian Goff said on the company’s fourth-quarter earnings call in February. As SVB Leerink analyst Geoffrey Proges observed at the time, it “suggests that virtually 100% of new starts for PNH are already with Ultomiris.”
The Soliris follow-up could reach $1.93 billion in 2023 sales, Clarivate’s analysts predicted on the annual “Drugs to Watch” list for 2019.
Other major changes Hantson championed since landing at Alexion include moving the firm’s headquarters from Connecticut to Boston’s biotech hub. He was also busy on the M&A front in 2018, trying to pump up Alexion’s pipeline. The company secured the option to buy Dutch biotech Complement Pharma for potential work in neurological disorders, bought rare disease specialist Syntimmune for $400 million upfront, got a phase 3 treatment for the rare genetic disorder Wilson disease via a $855 million buyout of Wilson Therapeutics, and tapped into the hot RNAi arena with a Dicerna deal on two preclinical assets.
Last year was also the first full year for Goff, Chief Financial Officer Paul Clancy, R&D head John Orloff, and Chief Patient and Employee Experience Officer Anne-Marie Law, who came on board amid a major shake-up at the top of Alexion in the wake of a sales fraud investigation.