The top 10 highest paid biopharma R&D executives in 2018

Research & development (Image: AstraZeneca)
The top R&D executives from across biopharma are certainly not looking down the back of the sofa for change; most are earning around $7 million a year. (AstraZeneca)

The top research and development executives from across biopharma are certainly not looking down the back of the sofa for change; most are earning around $7 million a year (including compensation, pensions, stock and so on).

But then the job is tough, and arguably just as important as the top CEO job, given how much companies rely on the strength of their R&D. You would think that this list would, broadly at least, tally with the top 10 R&D budgets, but that’s not quite so.

Regeneron doesn’t even figure in the top 10 R&D budgets for 2018, yet George Yancopoulos, M.D., Ph.D., is once again at the top of the pay league table, with an almost unimaginable $25 million-plus package, around 2.5 times the average of the big players.

Is Regeneron particularly innovative in comparison to its peers? Looking at the metrics, it’s right up there, and Yancopoulos likes to talk up how the biopharma is a hardcore innovator and shaming those that rely on price hikes and me-too drugs.

True, a lot of Yancopoulos’ pay is tied to major blockbuster and aging eye drug Eylea, but he’s been there two decades and has helped the company convert a high hit rate from its R&D work into NMEs.

There is some dovetailing: Johnson & Johnson, the second largest R&D spender overall (including diagnostics), is also second on the pay list, with Chief Scientific Officer Paul Stoffels, M.D., taking home more than $10 million, though this comes at a time of major legal tussles around claims of asbestos in talcum powder and ongoing opioid litigation.

One of the more surprising is Novartis, fourth on the R&D spenders’ list but tenth for R&D executive pay packets. Its research head, Jay Bradner, M.D., who’s been there for around three years, is helping steer the company into new areas (and slashing areas that don’t keep up), but has also seen a number of failures, including partnered flops in Alzheimer’s and NASH.

There have also been changes at the top, with Biogen’s R&D lead Michael Ehlers, M.D., Ph.D., the most notable, jumping ship for a biotech just a few months’ back, coming off the back of a pretty woeful pipeline that this year saw one of its biggest hopes, its much-hyped Alzheimer’s hopeful, implode.

For more eye-watering paychecks and the microcosm of biopharma’s R&D world, check out our top 10 below. — Ben Adams

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