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Two more Big Pharma CEOs enjoyed hefty raises in 2018, leaving the industry’s only major league female chief in firm control of last place

By any measure, Merck had a big year in 2018 as its PD-1 drug cruised into first place for the megablockbuster checkpoint market. And CEO Ken Frazier, who started the year by earning headlines for directly rebuking President Donald Trump, was rewarded with a fat, 19% hike in compensation.

Ken Frazier

Frazier grabbed a package worth just under $21 million, with $13.4 million worth of stock and option awards going his way to deliver the goods, on top of his $1.6 million salary. His compensation jumped $3.6 million, though it still fell shy of the $21.7 million earned in 2016.

That’s worth a number 3 spot on the CEO compensation charts.

We also learned from SEC filings that Amgen CEO Robert Bradway registered a bump in his wealth counter, weighing in at a total of $18.5 million, a three-year high. His $1.6 million upsizing was worth a 10% hike over 2017.  Bradway capped his year last year with an approval for Aimovig, a drug he no longer wishes to share with Novartis, where CEO Vas Narasimhan earned just a little more than half of what Bradway gained.

The 2018 chart on Big Pharma compensation is still topped by ex-Gilead CEO John Milligan’s $26 million, with GSK chief Emma Walmsley firmly at the bottom of the list for the top 15 Big Pharma chiefs we track. She earned $7.7 million.

Robert Bradway

All the CEOs’ pay fluctuations can theoretically be tied to the success or failure, ultimately, of their R&D groups. But in Merck’s case the extra largesse didn’t extend in any extraordinary way to Roger Perlmutter, who grabbed a package worth $7 million, just up 4%. 

Sean Harper finished out his career at Amgen with $6.8 million, which sits right in the same ballpark as Perlmutter.

We’re almost done now running through the compensation list for pharmaland’s top execs. As usual, the Americans did far better than the Europeans. And the relative newcomers — like Richard Gonzalez and David Ricks — made up for some lost time with some of the biggest packages on the list.

Overall, it’s a good time to run a Big Pharma company, despite congressional investigations related to the ongoing battle over drug prices, unending questions about the sustainability of a questionable R&D model and so on.


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Research Scientist - Immunology
Recursion Pharmaceuticals Salt Lake City, UT
Director of Operations
Atlas Venture Cambridge, MA

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