High-flying Vertex hikes CEO Reshma Kewalramani's pay by 30% to $20.6M

In a year in which Vertex Pharmaceuticals saw its share price swell by 41%, the Boston company rewarded its CEO in kind.

In her third full year as the CEO, Reshma Kewalramani, M.D., collected $20.6 million in total compensation in 2023, an increase of 30% from $15.9 million in 2022. Vertex reported its executive pay in a securities filing last week.

With the big bump, Kewalramani, 51, joins an exclusive club of biopharma CEOs who topped the $20 million mark in 2023. With a few major companies yet to report, the list of heavy hitters includes Johnson & Johnson’s Joaquin Duato ($28.4 million), Eli Lilly’s David Ricks ($26.6 million), AbbVie’s retiring Richard Gonzalez ($25.7 million) and Pfizer’s Albert Bourla, Ph.D. ($21.6 million). The figures include salary, bonus cash, equity-based pay awards and other compensation.

The presence of Kewalramani is also significant in that she is the lone woman heading up one of the world’s 15 biopharma companies with a market cap higher than $100 billion. Nearly reaching the standard is GSK with an $85 billion market cap. Its seven-year CEO Emma Walmsley also had a large pay hike—51% to 12.7 million pounds sterling ($16 million) in 2023.

Kewalramani, who started her career as a nephrologist, made the jump to biopharma two decades ago. After 12 years at Amgen, including six as a VP, Kewalramani came to Vertex in 2017, serving two years as chief medical officer before replacing Jeffrey Leiden in April 2020. In his final year as CEO, Leiden made $18.8 million while Kewalramani received $9.1 million.

The bulk of Kewalramani’s pay increase in 2023 came from a boost in stock awards from $10.6 million to $15 million. Her bonus grew from $3.8 to $4.1 million, while her salary increased from $1.4 to $1.5 million.

Each of Vertex’s top four executives received individual ratings of “leading/exemplary” and maxed out their “individual performance factor” at 150%, the company said in its filing.

Chief Financial Officer Charles Wagner made $7.4 million in 2023. Chief scientific officer David Altshuler received $6.5 million and Chief Operating Officer Charles Arbuckle collected $9 million. Leiden, who serves as chairman, collected $6.6 million, nearly all of it from stock awards.

The company finished 2023 with an 11% revenue increase to $9.9 billion, with its cystic fibrosis duo of Trikafta/Kaftrio generating $8.9 billion in sales. Vertex also closed the year with an historic FDA approval for CRISPR Therapeutics-partnered sickle cell disease gene therapy Casgevy. It is the first approved product developed with the CRISPR gene editing system.