The top 15 highest-paid biopharma CEOs of 2020

At least one CEO's 2020 pay package is sure to set a high benchmark for years to come. (Diy13/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

For many pharma companies in 2020, the name of the game was COVID-19. Last year, the industry moved at breakneck speeds, forging unheard-of collaborations to deliver vaccines and therapeutics across the finish line.

More than a few of those pandemic players handed their chief executives some serious pay bumps for that work, but COVID-19 wasn't all there was to 2020's executive pay saga.

As was the case in 2019, no female executives made the list this year. Vertex Pharmaceuticals' new CEO Reshma Kewalramani reeled in $9.11 million for 2020, or about half of what her predecessor made, while GlaxoSmithKline's Emma Walmsley saw her pay drop to £7 million ($9.7 million), down from about £8.1 million ($11.25 million) in 2019. 

Meanwhile, Sanofi, Roche and Novartis' top executives were notably absent for the second year in a row. 

Overall, companies involved in the pandemic fight delivered the highest pay packages, and at least two are sure to spark conversations around executive pay for years to come. Regeneron's Leonard Schleifer topped the rankings with more than $135 million in pay, and the company's top scientist, George Yancopoulos, trailed close behind at a little more than $134 million for the year.

RELATED: The top 15 highest-paid biopharma CEOs of 2019

Novavax has yet to snare an emergency use authorization for its COVID vaccine hopeful, but it did hand CEO Stanley Erck $48.07 million, jettisoning him into second place on our list. 

But COVID-19 players weren't the only ones to dish out some serious compensation boosts in 2020. AbbVie's Richard Gonzales jumped two spots to no. 5 on our list, while CEOs from BioMarin and Horizon Therapeutics made the list for the first time. And Viatris, Pfizer and Mylan's recently completed generics spinoff, awarded not its CEO, but its executive chairman an eye-popping $29 million in 2020 pay.

Some of those compensation packages have already drawn investor ire, with proxy advisers taking aim at Johnson & Johnson's executive pay and AstraZeneca's executive bonus plans for this year. 

For more, check out our profiles to learn about the highest-paid biopharma CEOs and the factors that went into their overall compensation. As always, please reach out with any comments. — Fraiser Kansteinr (email).