Thanks to Spinraza and biosims—if not aducanumb—Biogen CEO Vounatsos scored $18M-plus in 2019 pay

Biogen CEO Michel Vounatsos
Biogen CEO Michel Vounatsos scored a pay package worth more than $18 million in 2019. (Biogen)

Between a huge Alzheimer’s drug setback last spring, its resurrection in the fall and a COVID-19 “superspreader” meeting early this year, Biogen has routinely made big headlines—and obviously, they weren't always positive.

Still, steering the ship through it all delivered CEO Michel Vounatsos a hefty raise to more than $18 million in pay last year.

Biogen last March said it would sideline aducanumab after the drug failed phase 3 studies, but later in the year the drugmaker said a follow-up dataset showed benefits for a high dose. And now, Biogen says it plans to head to the FDA to seek an approval. 

Of course, the company is more than aducanumab, and its lineup of approved drugs helped Biogen turn in a “successful” year, the company’s new proxy filing said. The Boston-based biotech grew revenues to $14.4 billion, launched new multiple sclerosis med Vumerity in November, expanded its spinal muscular atrophy and biosimilar businesses, and advanced pipeline drugs, the proxy noted.

SPECIAL REPORT: The top 20 pharma companies by 2019 revenue 

And that, apparently, was enough to score Vounatsos a 12% pay raise to $18.16 million. 

Biogen’s median compensation for employees in 2019 was $159,721, so its CEO-to-worker pay ratio was 114 to 1.

The company hiked Vounatsos’ incentive compensation, but it also raised his base salary by 9% to $1.39 million. His cash incentive pay jumped far more: it took a $546,000 leap to $3.88 million.

Meanwhile, the CEO scored a $1 million-plus increase in stock awards—to $12.35 million—and his other compensation jumped by about $40,000. 

RELATED: Biogen resurrects aducanumab, arguing expanded data set supports FDA filing in Alzheimer's  

Aside from its financial performance in 2019, Biogen also inked an R&D agreement with Skyhawk Therapeutics and bought out gene therapy outfit Nightstar Therapeutics. The company wrapped up an ophthalmology biosims deal with Samsung Bioepis, plus made other business development moves. 

But so far in 2020, the company has faced a unique set of challenges stemming from one management meeting.

RELATED: After 'superspreader' meeting, recovered Biogen employees give blood to aid coronavirus research

In late February, as COVID-19 started spreading in the U.S., the company brought together about 170 managers in Boston. Dozens would eventually contract COVID-19 and take infections back to numerous states and countries.  

In response to the pandemic, Biogen has pledged a $10 million donation and is committing resources to the R&D effort. Recovered employees are also donating blood to help researchers learn more about the virus.

The company has yet to submit aducanumab to the FDA but it presents first-quarter earnings on Wednesday, when execs will be expected to provide an update on the latest news at the drugmaker. 

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