Who are the top-earning R&D executives in biotech?

George Yancopoulos of Regeneron Pharmaceuticals

As biotech R&D spending grows, and a steady stream of biotech products continues to win regulatory approval, R&D executives at the companies commercializing these drugs have been rising accordingly.

In a new analysis published in Nature Biotechnology, senior editor Michael Francisco looks at the salaries of the top-paid biotech R&D officers, as reported in the 2013 BioWorld Executive Compensation Report. The report tracks the annual compensation for biopharmaceutical execs at 258 companies based on U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filings.

In his analysis, Francisco notes that in addition to salary and bonuses, other compensation like stock, stock options and long-term cash awards can double total compensation for R&D officers at these big companies.


The top five earners, ranked by total compensation, in 2011 were:

  1. George Yancopoulos, founding scientist, president and chief scientific officer, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, $2.6 million (salary = $653,000)
  2. Roger Perlmutter, former executive vice president of research & development, Amgen, $2.4 million (salary = $982,000)
  3. Norbert Bischofberger, executive vice president of research & development and chief scientific officer, Gilead Sciences, $1.6 million (salary = $756,000)
  4. Stephen P. Squinto, executive vice president and head of R&D, Alexion Pharmaceuticals, $1.33 million (salary = $475,000)
  5. Douglas Williams, executive vice president of R&D, Biogen Idec, $1.3 million (salary = $594,000)

There are lots of interesting ways to look at these numbers. One is to look at how they compare to these companies’ R&D budgets. Regeneron spent less than Amgen, Gilead and Biogen on R&D in 2011 ($529 million), but paid its R&D leader more after including bonuses — likely because that was the year its anticipated eye drug Eylea won U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval. It also makes sense that Perlmutter would make the highest overall salary, as Amgen was the biggest R&D spender at $3.1 billion, and brought in $15.6 billion in revenue in 2011.

Or you could look at what the CEOs of those respective companies are making. Gilead Sciences’ CEO, John Martin, the highest-paid biopharma CEO in 2011 according to the survey, brought in $54.6 million. Only $1.42 million of that was salary, but that’s still almost twice the salary of CSO Bischofberger. Former Amgen CEO Kevin Sharer made the highest salary that year at $1.75 million.

Or you could look at how the compensation for scientist-executives working at big biopharma companies compares to that of scientists who run major institutes and academic centers. Chief executives of nonprofit research institutes made comparable — sometimes, even slightly higher — salaries, according to a Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News analysis, but that analysis didn’t note if bonuses or other incentives were included. The highest-paid among them, John C. Reed, CEO of Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, brought in a $1.5 million salary for 2010-2011, according to the analysis.

All of the top 20 earners on BioWorld’s R&D executives list are from U.S.-based companies.

[Photo from Regeneron Pharmaceuticals]

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