New highest-paid CEO: United Therapeutics chief collected $38M in 2013

Martine Rothblatt

A few weeks ago, we published our annual list of highest-paid biopharma CEOs. Now, we're saying whoops! Sitting at the top of our list was Regeneron CEO Leonard Schleifer with $36.27 million in 2013 compensation. But United Therapeutics ($UTHR) chief Martine Rothblatt should have had that spot.

Thanks to a tipoff from a reader, we now know that Rothblatt's 2013 compensation package amounted to $38.22 million. That's a solid $1.95 million more than Schleifer's.

It's also more than four times Rothblatt's 2012 pay package, which totaled $7.96 million. What pushed Rothblatt to such heights in 2013 was a $36 million option award, granted according to a formula linked to an increase in market cap.

And for 2013, that increase was a doozy. Just a week before 2013 ended, United Therapeutics shares took a big leap, to top $114 on Dec. 23 from $87.84 on Dec. 20. The catalyst: FDA approval for an oral version of its Remodulin drug for pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH), Orenitram. The agency had nixed the pill twice before.

The approval was a big surprise to analysts--"one of the top 10 biggest upside surprises in the history of the biotech sector" was how ISI Group analyst Mark Schoenebaum put it. It was a welcome surprise for investors, who obviously bid up the stock in a year-end frenzy.

United Therapeutics shares have settled back down, closing at around $91 earlier this week. The FDA approval covered a small patient group with perhaps a $250 million payoff, with some of that revenue siphoned away from the injectable versions of the same product. And Orenitram has a couple of recently minted competitors, including Actelion's ($ATLN) Opsumit (macintentan) and Bayer's Adempas.

But the company is studying Orenitram for a much bigger indication. And it's about to start construction on a research lab in North Carolina, with some of the work there focused on using pig lungs for human transplant. The company is teamed up with the prominent geneticist and serial biotech entrepreneur Craig Venter on the venture, and it's not as huge a stretch from its current work as it might seem. The organs could be transplanted into humans with PAH, the company says. Provided the whole idea works out, of course.

Meanwhile, Rothblatt has been exercising some of her options and trading United Therapeutics shares. According to Equilar Atlas, she exercised about $205,000 worth of options just last week, and sold $337,419 worth of shares the same day.

- see the United Therapeutics proxy (PDF)

Special Report: Top 15 highest-paid biopharma CEOs of 2013 - Leonard Schleifer, Regeneron