Struggling Biogen paid its 2 CEOs more than $57M last year, including $30.5M to new chief Chris Viehbacher

Shortly after he was hired as the new CEO at Biogen, Chris Viehbacher characterized the company’s pursuit of addressing unmet needs in neuroscience as a “high risk” and “high reward” enterprise.

So how much is Biogen betting on Viehbacher to clean up the mess of the company’s failed launch of Alzheimer’s drug Aduhelm and produce those high rewards?

The former CEO at Sanofi, who was hired by Biogen in November, was compensated $30.5 million last year, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing. The figure will make him one of the highest-paid execs in the industry in 2022.

Also on the list will be the man Viehbacher replaced, Michel Vounatsos, who collected $26.6 million in total pay in 2022. The company revealed in May that Vounatsos would be departing after five-plus years as CEO. He stayed on until December, assisting with the transition.

Vounatsos, 62, had scored $18.7 million in 2020 and $17.7 million in 2021. The bump in his 2022 compensation came from nearly $8.8 million in severance pay.

The combined compensation for Biogen’s two CEOs came to more than $57 million in a year in which the company saw a 7% drop in revenue to $10.2 billion. Biogen’s sales peaked at $14.4 billion in 2019 but have fallen each year since.

Nearly all of Viehbacher’s pay came in the form of equity awards, which totaled just over $30 million. His salary for his seven-plus weeks on the job came to $153,846.

Viehbacher, 63, was compensated in relation to CEO pay at Biogen’s biotech peer companies and “broader marketplace practices as to the structure of new CEO inducement and sign-on awards,” the company explained in the filing.

In recent years, biopharma CEOs who have been hired from other companies have scored big incentive rewards for signing on. For example, in 2019, when Daniel O'Day took over at Gilead and departed as pharma chief at Roche, he was paid $29.1 million. The following year, O'Day received $19 million.

The hiring bump helped compensate for the pension benefits that O'Day forfeited in leaving Roche after three decades, Gilead explained.

As for Biogen’s other execs in 2022, Chief Financial Officer Michael McDonnell made $7.2 million, up from $5.9 million in 2021. Chief Legal Officer Susan Alexander was paid $6.8 million, up from $5.6 million in 2021.

Former global product strategy and commercialization chief Chirfi Guindo, who departed in June, earned $5.4 million. In their first years at Biogen, Chief Human Resources Officer Ginger Gregory made $5.1 million, while pharmaceutical operations and technology chief Nicole Murphy was paid $4.9 million.