Here's a question: As the nation's leading, independent nonprofit life sciences research institutes pursue the quest for cures and answers to the major medical challenges of our time, how high a salary should be paid to the person in charge?
There isn't an easy answer. Certainly, it's not the corporate world, so pay levels aren't commensurate with profits and productivity, per se. But similar to corporations, leaders of research institutions must have stellar resumés, to be sure, and a track record of success.
A new report by Genetic Engineering News (using data from Guidestar.org) compiles a top 20 list of the salaries these groups paid their leaders. The numbers are based on the most recent year reported (which can vary among nonprofits) so some are from the 2010 calendar year, others from 2011, or fiscal year 2010-2011. Some interesting trends emerge all the same. Certainly, none of the 20 men on this list make multimillion salaries as their drug industry corporate counterparts do. But the top four institute heads, for example--led by the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute CEO John C. Reed--pulled in well over $1 million for their most recent reported annual salary.
J. Craig Venter's salary may be among the most unexpected. The founder, chairman and president of the eponymously-named J. Craig Venter Institute places only 9th out of 20 on Genetic Engineering News' list. Considering his reputation as a gene sequencing/synthetic biology pioneer, observers may have expected him to land at least a few notches higher. Venter, known for arrogance, hubris and not necessarily working well with others, is one of the first people to sequence the human genome, and have his genome sequenced. He also successfully built the first self-replicating synthetic bacterial cell, an accomplishment credited with making a genetic engineering industry possible. With that kind of track record, his institute is, and will be, certainly worth watching, and he could have arguably grabbed a much higher salary for himself. He's also made at least one other list--FierceBiotech's 25 most influential people in biopharma today.