Moderna CEO Bancel uses inaugural stock option to give $355M to charity

One of the most handsomely rewarded biopharma CEOs in recent years is paying it forward—literally.

Stéphane Bancel, who joined Moderna back in 2013, is cashing out his original stock options in the company for charity, the biotech’s helmsman said Tuesday. All told, Bancel expects the move to yield a donation of about $355 million, after some $280 million in state and federal tax payments.

Moderna’s whirlwind mRNA success story has provided Bancel and his family financial security “the likes of which I never imagined or, frankly, sought,” he explained in a blog post.

Thanks to sales of its COVID-19 shot Spikevax, Moderna pulled down $18.5 billion in revenues last year and handed Bancel a 41% pay bump to $18.2 million.

“In an effort to be as transparent as possible, I wanted to update you on how I intend to use my personal financial resources to better the world,” Bancel continued in his message to Moderna stakeholders.

Specifically, Bancel will exercise an option to buy nearly 4.6 million Moderna shares at $0.99 a piece, the company explained in a securities filing. Starting this week, Bancel will acquire 40,000 shares each Wednesday and Thursday “until the option is fully exercised” around June 2023, Moderna said.

The CEO will give the after-tax proceeds from those sales to undisclosed "charitable causes."

In addition, his family has established a vehicle to sell 10,000 shares each Thursday to benefit "private companies trying to have a positive impact on the world: healthcare companies and companies focused on addressing the adverse impact of climate change." That program is set to run through the end of the year.

The staggered approach should prevent a significant number of shares coming to market at once and potentially influencing Moderna’s share price, Bancel said.

Bancel’s inaugural stock option grant is good for 10 years, which means it’s due to expire next August.

“If we do not exercise this stock option, it will expire and be worthless,” Bancel said. “As such, our choice is clear: Exercise the option and use this moment to create positive change in the world.”

Moderna has largely avoided the sort of pandemic profiteering jabs aimed at Pfizer and its partner BioNTech. Still, Bancel, as someone who’s risen to prominence during the pandemic, acknowledged the potential for “uninformed commentary about my motivations for these sales” to surface in the coming months.

Turning back to Bancel’s 2021 pay package, the majority of his $18.2 million return came from $15 million in equity awards, which are considered “at-risk” because they can only be collected over time when certain criteria are met.

Starting last year, Moderna rolled out a performance-based share unit plan, which amounted for 25% of Bancel’s total stock award.

Back in 2018, the same year Moderna charted a record-breaking IPO, Bancel topped Fierce Pharma's rankings of the best-paid biopharma CEOs with a whopping $58.6 million in total compensation. 

Almost all of Bancel’s 2018 pay came from option awards that would vest in tranches over the next five years. 

Meanwhile, an important piece of Bancel’s professional philosophy is “servant leadership,” or the mindset “that you exist to serve a greater good,” the CEO noted in his blog post.

For going toe-to-toe with SARS-CoV-2, Bancel was recently named a chevalier (knight) of the Légion d’Honneur, the highest French distinction for military and civil accomplishments.

Still, Moderna’s crusade against COVID-19 hasn’t been without its recent hitches. Just two days after settling into his role at Moderna earlier this month, the company’s new CFO Jorge Gomez made for the exit after his former company Dentsyply Sirona unveiled an investigation into “certain financial reporting matters.”

Moderna’s market cap also plunged in the first three months of the year. The downturn comes as COVID-19 players around the world flag slumping vaccine demand.