Vertex CEO Leiden snags 9% pay raise to $18.8M for 'extraordinary' 2018

CEO of Vertex
Vertex CEO Jeffrey Leiden earned an $18.8 million pay package in 2018, ranking No. 11 on the list of biopharma's best-paid CEOs so far. (Vertex)

Vertex Pharmaceuticals chalked up some big wins in 2018: It launched its third cystic fibrosis drug, Symdeko, for one, and grew revenue by a hefty 40%. Altogether, it was an "extraordinary" year, the company figures—and enough to win CEO Jeffrey Leiden a 9% pay boost.

Leiden pulled in $18.8 million, thanks to a hefty bump to his equity-based pay. His salary held steady for 2018 at $1.3 million, and he took home a slightly thinner packet of cash incentive pay at $3.44 million.

But his stock and option awards jumped by nearly $1.6 million to more than $12 million, Vertex disclosed in a proxy filing. And that made the difference, taking his total up to $18.8 million from $17.2 million in 2017.

Leiden's pay package ranks him just outside of biopharma's top 10 best-paid CEOs of 2018, based on available proxy filings. The Vertex chief comes in 11th, behind former Pfizer helmsman Ian Read with $19.5 million. 

It’s also worth noting that Vertex’s former Chief Operating Officer Ian Smith, who was fired earlier this year for misconduct, pulled in a $4.6 million pay package last year. That figure didn’t include cash incentive pay, which Smith had earned in previous years.  

Vertex had an “extraordinary” year in 2018, the filing said. Besides getting Symdeko across the finish line, the Massachusetts-based company also made progress with its next generation of triple-combo cystic fibrosis meds, aiming to create a suite of drugs that can treat the "vast majority" of patients, the proxy said. And Vertex's 40% revenue hike took its top line above $3 billion.

Looking ahead, the company expects to grow its cystic fibrosis revenues by 15% this year. And outside of its core strength in that disease, the company has ambitions in pain, sickle cell disease and other conditions.

Last year, 96% of Vertex shareholders supported the company’s pay packages. But while shareholders may approve of Vertex’s recent progress, the company has faced bad press in England over its standoff with health officials on pricing. The issue has led to intense pressure from patient advocates and public officials. 

For its part, Vertex maintains its drugs are worth more than England has committed to pay. England’s offer "does not take into account the vast time and resources invested” to develop the drugs, and could hamper the company's ability to find a cure for the disease, an executive said.