George Yancopoulos - Regeneron

The industry's highest-paid scientist may be its best bargain

Name: George Yancopoulos
Title: Chief scientific officer, Regeneron

In its 20-plus years of operation, Regeneron ($REGN) has taken a different tack from other members of so-called Big Biotech. Instead of shelling out billions to flesh out its pipeline through acquisitions, the Tarrytown, NY, company has relied on its internal R&D efforts to lead the way. But, as CEO Leonard Schleifer is fond of pointing out, that would be completely impossible without George Yancopoulos, Regeneron's head scientist and the driving force behind its innovation engine.

According to a 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. And that's a credit to Yancopoulos, whose inward-focused approach to drug development has bred three FDA-approved therapies--including the blockbuster ophthalmic treatment Eylea. He's also responsible for the drug discovery technology that allows Regeneron to shave months off of its development timelines. Thanks to Yancopoulos, Regeneron can afford to eschew big M&A and high-dollar in-licenses, creating something of an ideal model for emerging biotechs with dreams of longevity.

Of course, as is often mentioned, Yancopoulos is well-compensated for his time: In 2012, he took home a pay package totaling nearly $82 million in cash and stock, the most for any executive in the industry by a wide margin. In the same year, the highest-paid CEO, Schleifer, made about $30 million, and 2012's second-highest-paid R&D chief, Novartis' ($NVS) Mark Fishman, took home just $8.8 million.

But to Schleifer, his friend and partner is more than worth the price, especially considering how many Big Pharma overtures Yancopoulos has received over the years.

"I wanted to make sure that he had absolutely no reason to go someplace else or go out on his own, because we can pay him hundreds of millions of dollars or we can buy his drugs for billions of dollars when he's at another company," Schleifer told FierceBiotech last year. "So, it's a lot cheaper this way."

And Yancopoulos's best--or at least most valuable--work may still be ahead of him. Regeneron and partner Sanofi ($SNY) are racing through Phase III studies with alirocumab, a PCSK9-blocking cholesterol drug that has the chance to lead a $10 billion market. And the company has re-upped with Eylea co-developer Bayer to get working on a new drug that could work in combination with the billion-dollar wet age-related macular degeneration therapy.

-- Damian Garde (email | Twitter)

For more:
Special Report: Top 15 highest paid biopharma R&D chiefs - George Yancopoulos
Booming Regeneron gets the dirt flying on big R&D expansion
Regeneron's chief scientist spotlights potential blockbuster allergy drug
How Regeneron's Yancopoulos became the top-paid executive in biotech

George Yancopoulos - Regeneron
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