Albert Bourla

Albert Bourla incoming Pfizer CEO
Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla has inked deals to reshape the company around its innovative medicines. (Pfizer)

Albert Bourla, Pfizer
2019 total pay:
2018 total pay: $9,854,557
Percentage change: 82%

It’s so far, so good for Albert Bourla’s first year at the helm. When Ian Read stepped aside as CEO of Pfizer at the end of 2018, former Chief Operating Officer Bourla assumed the role, promising to steer the company toward a leaner future focused on new meds and pipeline programs.

Pfizer’s board of directors seems pleased. Bourla received a massive 82% increase to his total pay package, finishing out 2019 with close to $18 million (PDF). That’s not far off from Ian Read’s last pay package as CEO, taking into account the 30% reduction in total compensation when he stepped up to the chairman's job.

Boosts to Bourla's performance-based equity awards accounted for much of the increase. In addition to a base salary of $1.6 million, Bourla earned $3.63 million in short-term incentive pay based on overall company performance. But the real prize was the $10.4 million Bourla earned in long-term incentives for his first-year performance as CEO, up from about $6.4 million in 2018.

Bourla certainly had his work cut out for him, and he came out of the gate making bold promises about Pfizer’s future.

At the start of the year, Bourla rolled out a new “Purpose Blueprint” designed to support the company’s renewed focus on R&D and “breakthroughs that change patients’ lives.” Bourla targeted five areas where he sought to leverage Pfizer’s strengths: its patients and employees, research and development programs, the company’s go-to-market model, digital technologies, and Pfizer’s position in the global pharmaceutical conversation.

It didn't hurt Bourla's case that Pfizer came through on the R&D side. It won 10 FDA approvals over the course of 2019. Many of those were for new indications in oncology; its checkpoint inhibitor Bavencio plus Inlyta won first-line kidney cancer green lights in Europe, Japan, and the U.S., and Xtandi, the prostate cancer med it shares with Astellas, snared an FDA approval for metastatic castration-sensitive disease.

But Pfizer won nods for new drugs, too, including Vyndaqel for ATTR cardiomyopathy and a suite of biosimilars, including knockoffs of top Roche cancer meds.

And while Bourla was quick to warn that big M&A could derail the company, several deals coalesced during the summer that furthered his goal to sharpen the company's focus.

Bourla handed the reins of Pfizer’s consumer healthcare business to GlaxoSmithKline, creating a massive consumer healthcare joint venture that's due for spinoff within three years. He also announced a definitive agreement to merge Pfizer’s established medicines unit, Upjohn, with generics maker Mylan, to form Viatris. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic and delays at the FDA, however, closure on that deal has been put on hold until the second half of 2020.

In a move to build out its cancer portfolio, Bourla wrapped up an $11.4 billion deal for Array Biopharma, snaring the MEK inhibitor Mektovi and BRAF inhibitor Braftovi, and a research organization with other discoveries under its belt, too. Bourla also oversaw the acquisition of Vivet Therapeutics, Therachon Holding, and Akcea Therapeutics over the course of the year.

Those approvals and deals were necessary, as Pfizer weathered heavy competition from generics in light of Lyrica’s patent expiration. Revenue from the drug dropped 33% in 2019, but in announcing 2019 earnings, Bourla pointed to Pfizer’s “core five” growth products: newly approved Vyndaqel, breast cancer med Ibrance, immunology therapy Xeljanz, anticoagulant Eliquis, and pneumococcal vaccine Prevnar. Only Prevnar lagged in sales, but the company is now working on a follow-up version, Prevnar 20, which would target seven additional viral strains—and could revive the franchise.

Before the coronavirus disrupted projections, Bourla said Pfizer’s biopharma group was set for 6% annual growth over the next five years, and while that increase was largely contingent upon the Upjohn spinoff, it would make the drugmaker the second-fastest-growing Big Pharma over that time period.

Albert Bourla