How much does a biotech pay? Community-generated data tool gives a peek at industry's salaries

When setting up a brand-new biotech, founders have a host of roles to fill and salaries to set. To attract the best talent, compensation has to be just right.

A new community-generated data resource from Pillar VC, the Founder-led Biotech Summit and compensation analysis firm Pave seeks to take the guesswork out of the process by summarizing salary ranges from 90 companies.

The analysis shows, without surprise, that the C-suite has the highest paid employees in biotech. But breaking that down, chief medical officers, not the CEOs, are bringing home the biggest pay checks. The median salary for a CMO role is $450,000, with a range starting at $225,000 to as high as $459,000. This compares to the median for a CEO, which is $195,000, with a range from $145,000 to $350,000. 

Median salaries for the other tracked C-suite roles are the chief scientific officer at $250,000 and chief technology officer at $225,000. The median salary for the C-suite altogether is $256,000.

Executive salaries for biotechs pale in comparison to what leading commercial pharmas shell out for their top roles. In 2022, Gilead Sciences CEO Daniel O’Day collected $21.62 million, J&J’s freshman CEO Joaquin Duato took home $13.1 million and Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan, M.D., snagged $8.98 million, even after a 25% pay cut. For an analysis of the top R&D roles in biopharma, see our 2022 special report.  

After the C-suite, the top salaries in biotech can be found in the legal department, which has a median of $201,000, followed by principal scientist roles at $190,000.

Scientists can aspire to the top median salary of $328,000 as executive director, according to the data, followed by senior director at $238,000 and director at $195,000. On the other end of the scale, associate scientists can expect a median salary of $104,000.

Pay also varies by specialty. Those in genetics and sequencing could get a salary around $237,000, followed by biology at $183,000 and chemistry at $160,000. On the lower end, molecular/cell scientists can expect about $69,000.

Another interesting analysis is the breakdown of company composition, or what portion of each department employees belong to. For companies with one to 10 employees, the composition is a nearly identical split between the C-suite and scientist roles at 31% each. As the company gets larger, the share of scientists grows, but the composition becomes more fragmented as more clinical staff and regulatory roles are added. For companies with 200 or more employees, the share of scientists is 28% compared to 2% C-suite.

The analysis included 3,700 data points from 90 biotechs, which range from one to 25 employees, up to 50 or more. The analysis did not include a demographic breakdown.