Biogen's Michel Vounatsos takes home $18.7M in pay as the company battles to take aducanumab to market
Biogen found itself at the center of controversy late last year as it worked with the FDA to grease the wheels for its controversial Alzheimer’s med aducanumab. That back and forth led to accusations the agency wasn’t being impartial in its review — consider the question of whether the drug even works — but for Biogen CEO Michel Vounatsos, controversy proved lucrative.
Vounatsos bagged an $18.67 million pay package in 2020 as Biogen has pushed to get aducanumab over the finish line despite pushback from an FDA advisory committee and consumer advocates, according to an SEC filing.
It’s a slight bump from the $18.16 million Vounatsos took home in 2019, mostly tied to a big bump in stock awards. Vounatsos’ salary jumped to $1.49 million with $13.89 million in stock awards and $2.57 million in non-equity incentives.
In terms of perks, Vounatsos bagged about $455,000, mostly tied to contributions into a retirement account.
The story of 2020 for Biogen revolved around the travails of aducanumab, a controversial drug that faced an FDA adcomm firing line and spurred accusations that the drugmaker and agency have been far too cozy during the regulatory process.
In November, that adcomm gave a majority thumbs down against aducanumab’s application for Alzheimer’s arguing the drug didn’t show “primary evidence of effectiveness” despite the FDA’s full-throated support for the drug on the merits. FDA neuro head Billy Dunn — who consumer advocates would later accuse of favoring Biogen’s position during the review process — said the agency was using “innovative thinking” in supporting aducanumab’s approval.
Critics, however, accused the agency of skewing the adcomm’s questions in favor of supportive answers and cherry-picking data to support a case for approval.
The case has become a sticking point for the FDA as it continues to seek a permanent head amid the Biden administration’s takeover of power and a cautionary tale for drugmakers. But that doesn’t mean it won’t get approved. Just last week, Vounatsos effectively ordered full speed ahead on prepping a commercial launch for aducanumab in anticipation of the FDA’s June 7 PDUFA date.
According to a presentation the company gave to analysts, Biogen has identified some 600 sites in the US where patients could be assessed, dosed and monitored, while working with scientists, physicians and patients to lay the groundwork for the rollout. And then there’s the global campaign underway, with applications filed in Brazil, Canada, Switzerland, and Australia.