The top 20 highest-paid biopharma CEOs of 2018

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This year's 20 highest paid CEOs earned anywhere from $16 million to $58.6 million. (Pixabay)

As spring rolls on each year, proxy filings pile up, disclosing executive pay for the prior year. And as in past years, FiercePharma has tracked the info to present the top CEO pay packages in biopharma, ranging from nearly $60 million in 2018 down to $16 million. 

Between No. 1 and No. 20, you'll see some notable trends. First, no women made the list. Big Pharma’s only woman CEO, GlaxoSmithKline’s Emma Walmsley, fell far short of the threshold with a 2018 pay package of $7.75 million. Even if GSK had doubled her pay last year, she wouldn’t have scored the No. 20 spot.

But neither did a few of her Big Pharma peers. Novartis’ Vas Narasimhan, for instance, pulled in $9.9 million last year, not near enough to make the top 20 rankings. Narasimhan is relatively new to his role, but Roche’s Severin Schwan, who’s overseen steady growth for the company, pulled in CHF 11.76 million last year, or about $11.77 million at current exchange rates. Sanofi’s Olivier Brandicourt took a big pay cut to $8.2 million during a tough year for that company. 

But perhaps the most obvious change was the biotech takeover. A slew of biotech chiefs are scattered throughout the list, from the very top all the way down. Moderna’s Stéphane Bancel, BeiGene’s John Oyler, Seattle Genetics’ Clay Siegall, Ph.D., and Bluebird Bio’s Nick Leshly all run relatively small companies compared with some of the other executives on the list—and Bancel came in at the very top.

RELATED: GlaxoSmithKline CEO Walmsley snags a pay bump but still earns less than male peers

Lastly, company size didn’t exactly correlate with a better payday. Pfizer’s Ian Read, Johnson & Johnson’s Alex Gorsky and Merck’s Ken Frazier, who each run giant drug firms, didn’t crack the top 5 this year, though their paychecks each came in at more than $19.5 million.  

By contrast, Teva didn’t make a recent GlobalData report ranking the top 20 biopharma companies by market cap, but its CEO, Kåre Schultz, earned the No. 2 spot in 2018 pay rankings with $33 million. Moderna only went public late last year, and its helmsman Bancel topped all other biopharma CEOs with a staggering $58.6 million pay package.

Pharma critics often point to CEO pay among a laundry list of criticisms of the industry, and this year was no different. For instance, AbbVie’s Richard Gonzalez drew some pointed questioning about his pay at a congressional hearing over drug prices. At the hearing, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., asked whether Gonzalez’s bonus is tied to sales of Humira, the world’s best-selling drug on which AbbVie has routinely raised prices.  

Gonzalez responded to the senator that Humira is an important drug for the company and its sales represent one factor in his pay. It remains to be seen whether any of the drugmakers change their CEO pay strategies based on growing scrutiny around drug pricing, so stay tuned. 

Please read through our profiles to learn about the highest-paid biopharma CEOs last year and the factors that went into their overall compensation. As always, please reach out with any comments. — Eric Sagonowsky (email) (Twitter)

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