COVID-19 players handed out some hefty pay packages in 2020, but the compensation awarded to Regeneron Pharmaceuticals’ chief executive will surely set the high benchmark for years to come.
Many elements of CEO Leonard Schleifer’s 2020 pay look par for the course in biopharma: There’s the $1.5 million in salary, plus $3.5 million in cash incentive pay. But Schleifer got a staggering $130 million in stock awards, a more than 2,500% increase over what he earned in shares the previous year. Chief Scientific Officer George Yancopoulous, M.D., Ph.D., reeled in $134.38 million for the year, with $130 million of that pay package similarly tied to a stock award payout.
Why the huge stock bumps? Regeneron gave its two top execs five years of equity awards upfront last year and won’t hand out further stock awards until December 2025, the company said in its 2021 proxy filing. The awards are doled out “upon achievement of ambitious, predetermined cumulative [total shareholder return] goals over a primary performance period of five years,” the company said.
Regeneron has played a big role in the U.S.’ COVID-19 response, but unlike many pharmas working on vaccines, the New York-based drugmaker instead turned its attention to therapeutics, snaring an emergency nod for its antibody cocktail of casirivimab and imdevimab in late November. Regeneron’s treatment was the second antibody therapy approved after Eli Lilly’s bamlanivimab, which beat Regeneron’s to an EUA by a matter of days.
Schleifer’s payday puts him well ahead of his C-suite compatriots at other pharma companies, including those involved in COVID-19 development last year. For example, Novavax’s chief executive Stanley Erck received the second-highest compensation in biopharma for 2020 at around $48 million, trailed by Johnson & Johnson’s Alex Gorsky with $29.58 million.
Regeneron’s COVID drug earned $146 million in the fourth quarter of 2020, though the company did recently line up a supply deal worth up to $2.63 billion with the U.S. government.
The company has struggled to drive demand for its COVID-19 treatment, largely because the cocktail has a narrow treatment window and must be infused, but Regeneron continues to heavily market the treatment. It recently kicked off a new TV ad campaign to raise awareness of monoclonal antibodies—with a specific focus on populations that face a high risk of progression to severe COVID-19, including Black and Hispanic people and healthcare providers.
Regeneron hopes the ads will “spark dialogue between patients and physicians, and convey the need for rapid action after a positive COVID-19 test result in case you qualify for a mAb treatment,” a company spokesperson told Fierce Pharma in April.
Meanwhile, Regeneron recently got a leg up on Lilly, at least as far as single-agent antibody treatments are concerned; Lilly's solo antibody drug bamlanivimab had its emergency nod revoked by the FDA, which at the same time confirmed that combination monoclonal antibody therapies like Regeneron’s “remain appropriate treatment choices … and can help keep high-risk patients with COVID-19 out of the hospital.”