7. Vertex Pharmaceuticals
2018 median employee pay: $232,178
2018 number of employees: 2,500
CEO: Jeffrey Leiden
2018 CEO pay: $18.80 million
CEO-to-employee pay ratio: 81.0:1
It's a time for change at Vertex Pharmaceuticals as longtime CEO Jeffrey Leiden, M.D., Ph.D., prepares to hand over the reins of the cystic fibrosis (CF)-focused firm he helped build. It's not the end for Leiden—he’s moving up to executive chairman—but it will cap off a lucrative year for Vertex’s employees.
The drugmaker’s 2,500-employee workforce took in $232,178 in median pay in 2018—a 9.8% increase from the previous year. That hike slightly outpaced Leiden’s own raise; his $18.8 million pay package represented a 9.1% jump from 2017.
Leiden’s base salary of $1.3 million has remained unchanged since 2014, Vertex said, with incremental jumps in stock awards over the last few years. His compensation comes out to a ratio of 81:1 compared with that of his employees.
Vertex touts the diversity of its workforce, including its fifth-place finish this year on Forbes’ "The Best Employers for Diversity" list. That’s tops among biopharma companies. The drugmaker said 51% of its global workforce and 38% of its leadership are women, and 30% of its workforce is racially or ethnically diverse.
That diversity of leadership goes all the way to the top: Leiden will hand over the CEO reins to current Chief Medical Officer Reshma Kewalramani, M.D. She’ll take control at a pivotal time for the drugmaker as it looks to consolidate its stranglehold on CF and build an expansive pipeline in other indications.
Sales of Vertex’s most recent launch—double-drug CF medication Symdeko, pegged as the successor for flagship CF medicine Orkambi—nearly doubled in the second quarter to $362 million. That’s a 94.6% increase in the drug’s first year on the market.
Despite strong growth, at least one analyst expressed concern about Leiden’s departure. Geoffrey Porges of SVB Leerink said the move could lead to more top executives leaving the fold at a time when the drugmaker is pushing hard for an FDA approval for its CF triple-combo candidate, VX-445.
At issue for Porges, despite Kewalramani’s long history leading clinical trials, is her lack of experience in a CEO role.
“The experience of leading and executing large clinical trials is not necessarily evidence of preparedness for the complexity of leading a large public company,” Porges said.
Kewalramani will also be tasked with fleshing out Vertex’s growing drug pipeline, bolstered by a major investment in stem-cell based diabetes therapies.
Earlier this month, Vertex plopped down $950 million to buy Summa Therapeutics in an all-cash transaction expected to close in the fourth quarter. Summa, founded in 2014, specializes in a potential Type 1 diabetes medication that turns undifferentiated pluripotent stem cells into insulin-producing pancreatic beta cells that could be transplanted into a patient.
In June, Vertex built out its Duchenne muscular dystrophy pipeline with a $420 million buyout of Exonics and expanded its co-development pact with CRISPR Therapeutics to splash even further into the gene-editing field. The move follows Vertex’s licensing agreement with Merck KGaA and gives the company both a pipeline of gene editing programs and a selection of tools it can use to discover and advance additional assets.
Vertex also signed a $70 million deal in May to buy out Kymera Therapeutics and its pipeline of drugs that drive the elimination of disease-causing proteins. The early-stage deal features more than $1 billion in milestones tied to the success of six programs.
The drugmaker is also working on candidates in alpha-1 antitrypsin, sickle cell disease and beta thalassemia, APOL1-mediated kidney disease and others.