George Yancopoulos, Regeneron
President and chief scientific officer
2018 pay package: $25.38 million
2017 pay package: $25.29 million
$1.13 million in base salary
$1.38 million in bonus
$21.34 million in option awards
$400,000 in other compensation
Regeneron Chief Scientific Officer George Yancopoulos, M.D., Ph.D., once again topped the pay league table in 2018, with a massive $25 million-plus package that is roughly on a par with his 2017 earnings.
Yancopoulos has been leading Regeneron’s R&D operations for more than 20 years, making headlines in 2015 when he became the first biotech R&D chief billionaire, and under his tenure the company has brought seven drugs to the U.S. market. According to a recent SVB Leerink report, Regeneron is ranked second (just behind Vertex) among the top eight big biopharmas in converting new molecular entities into approvals, succeeding in 33% of cases.
Yancopoulos has attributed Regeneron’s R&D success to stable management, close attention to drug discovery and end-to-end development capabilities, as well as focusing on genetic approaches to target selection and validation.
The high hit rate goes some way to explain Yancopoulos’ chart-topping remuneration, although a lot of his package is tied to stock awards based on the massive success of Eylea, Regeneron’s blockbuster macular degeneration drug. Eylea shows no signs of slowing down, picking up a new indication in diabetic retinopathy in May, though it's due to lose U.S. patent protection in 2022.
2018 was a however year of flux for Regeneron, as it moved toward a more independent stance on its R&D as it continues to sever ties with long-standing antibody partner Sanofi, which has generated a string of new products including Eylea and fast-growing atopic dermatitis, asthma and latterly nasal polyposis therapy Dupixent.
Both companies say they are increasing their focus on independent in-house projects, with Sanofi ducking out of their immuno-oncology R&D alliance at the start of this year. That didn’t stop Regeneron from stepping into an Alnylam partnership recently vacated by Sanofi, however, pledging $800 million in April to programs for central nervous system and eye diseases to extend an earlier alliance with the RNA biotech in nonalcoholic steatohepatitis. It’s also teamed up with Bluebird Bio on cell therapies.
Regeneron currently has a pipeline of more than 15 antibody therapies in development across cardiovascular disease, infectious disease, inflammation, immunology and oncology. Dupixent features prominently in its near-term plans, targeting new indications in pediatric and adolescent atopic dermatitis as well as food and environmental allergies.
Regeneron has also been looking at combining Dupixent with its midstage IL-33 inhibitor REGN3500, although initial results for the latter in asthma haven’t been particularly impressive.
The Sanofi partnership also led to Regeneron’s first play in immuno-oncology with Libtayo, the sixth checkpoint inhibitor to be approved but the only one for skin cancer cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma.
Trials are ongoing to expand the drug into bigger markets, including as a monotherapy for frontline use in non-small cell lung cancer, where it will face stiff competition from Merck & Co.’s dominant Keytruda (pembrolizumab). Regeneron is also forging ahead on its own in cancer immunotherapy with a crop of three bispecific antibodies now in the clinic, including REGN1979, which targets CD20 and CD3.
Two more so-called co-stimulatory’ bispecifics—off-the-shelf drugs that it thinks have the potential to turn patients’ T cells into CAR-T-like cancer killers—are due to start human testing this year. Sanofi has retained opt-in rights to two bispecific programs.
Among its other late-stage projects is Teva-partnered nerve growth inhibitor fasinumab for chronic pain, considered a wild card but potentially a multibillion-dollar product if it can reach the market. Regeneron thinks it has identified the dose that could provide much-needed efficacy to rival opioid drugs while avoiding the side effects that have kiboshed so many members of the NGF inhibitor class. Fasinumab is in a race with Pfizer/Lilly’s rival tanezumab, the last two drugs standing in the category.
Meanwhile, Regeneron’s push into genetic testing also gathered pace last year, with the 500,000th exome sequenced in its partnership with the UK Biobank and another half-million individuals due to be processed this year.