Incyte doubles down on CEO Hervé Hoppenot’s pay package — big but not stupid

Hervé Hoppenot, Incyte CEO

On Monday, as Incyte’s stock price $INCY headed south in the wake of the FDA’s surprising decision to boot back baricitinib, the biotech was outlining how it nearly doubled CEO Hervé Hoppenot’s compensation package in 2016.

In the proxy statement, Incyte noted a small bump in base pay, to $937,738. But it was the increase in stock and option awards where the CEO benefited the most. Combined, the awards jumped from $3.7 million in 2015 to $9.5 million last year. And his total package grew from just under $6 million to $11.8 million.

Hoppenot’s executive team didn’t do nearly as well, of course, but they also scored better on the stock and option awards.

All of the past year’s CEO compensation, though, pales in comparison to the $32.7 million package used to woo Hoppenot from his prestigious post as head of Novartis oncology over to the biotech world at the beginning of 2014.

So what’s he done over the past three years?

Up until Friday, just about any analyst who covers Incyte would have said that he positioned the company well with Eli Lilly on baricitinib — a deal that dates back to 2009 — pointing to a 2017 launch. The stunning FDA rejection has yet to be fully explained. We know that more safety data will be needed, but there’s no idea how long that could take.

Just as importantly, though, Incyte has also moved to the front line of IDO development. Just weeks ago Incyte outlined how it tied the knot with Merck on a slate of six late-stage cancer studies combining its checkpoint Keytruda with the biotech’s IDO1 drug epacadostat, zeroing in on frontline use. Incyte has also recently pivoted into a partnership on three studies with Bristol-Myers Squibb’s rival checkpoint Opdivo.

The company’s staff has boomed past the 1,000 mark, with Incyte picking up Ariad’s European ops. And Hoppenot says that one of his biggest achievement was keeping the organization flat, with groups inside the company able to chart their own course without a vast hierarchy to cater to.

“The question was how to become big without becoming stupid,” he told me recently at the annual AACR meeting.

Along the way, Incyte has also become one of the most frequently cited takeover targets in the biotech industry, featuring on many analyst’s lists for attractive M&A targets.

So investors aren’t likely to complain too loudly about his pay package. There are plenty of CEOs in this business who get paid more, for less.

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