Regeneron's Schleifer hits the $1B mark, but his biotech is just getting started

Regeneron CEO Leonard Schleifer

After 25 years at the helm of one of biotech's best-case scenarios, Regeneron ($REGN) CEO Leonard Schleifer's personal net worth has crossed the $1 billion threshold, according to Forbes, thanks largely to the company's blockbuster eye drug. And, with a stable of promising late-stage treatments waiting in the wings, the Tarrytown, NY, executive's most profitable work may still be ahead of him.

As Forbes' Matthew Herper figures, Schleifer's stake in Regeneron adds up to about $600 million at its current share price, and his exercisable stock options top $300 million. Combined with other personal assets, that makes the CEO a billionaire on paper.

The run-up in Regeneron's shares (which have more than doubled since this time last year) is due largely to the blazing launch of the wet age-related macular degeneration drug Eylea, and the treatment's potential future in macular edema has stoked investor hopes of an even bigger blockbuster. But Schleifer and Regeneron's success is a credit not to any one product but rather its scientific platform and corporate culture, both of which helped transform Eylea from an iffy bet that repelled ex-partner Proctor & Gamble to a cornerstone therapy that brought in $1.4 billion last year.

And Schleifer's stake in the company will only get more valuable if Regeneron can deliver on its top clinical prospects. Alongside partner Sanofi ($SNY), the biotech is at work on alirocumab, a PCSK9-blocking cholesterol drug that has the chance to lead a $10 billion market, and sarilumab, which the duo says is the first arthritis drug of its kind to make it into the clinic. And then there's dupilumab, a Phase II Sanofi-shared asthma drug that Leerink believes could top out at $2.8 billion in sales, plus a host of early-stage treatments for cancer and metabolic disorders.

That pipeline gives Regeneron the potential to again double its share value over the next 5 years, analysts have said, which would make Schleifer, if he hasn't retired by then, one of the richest CEOs in biotech history.

But it's not just Regeneron's data that gives investors such confidence; it's the company's efficiency. According to an earlier Forbes analysis of publicly traded drugmakers, those that invented at least three treatments over the past decade spent an average of $4.3 billion on R&D for each drug. For Regeneron, that number is just $716 million.

To hear Schleifer tell it, the key to Regeneron's success is its ability to balance revenue-generating drug rollouts with moon-shot scientific research, which he credits in large part to George Yancopoulos, his well-respected (and well-compensated) R&D chief. And biotechs that get seduced by the former at the expense of the latter tend to "rot from the inside," the CEO told Herper, laying out a hypothetical acid test:

"George and I are in the office and we're arguing about something, which we do all time, and two people show up and knock on the office door," Schleifer said. "One of them is waving last month's sales of Eylea in the latest country that we've launched in, and the other one is waving an experimental result that doesn't have a chance in the world of leading to a product for at least a dozen years. If we're not equally excited about both of those--or perhaps even more excited about the long-term--then the company's rotten."

- read Forbes' story

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