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What’s it take to recruit a top drug development exec out of Gilead? Stock options help, a lot

For the growing ranks of public biotechs, stock options are proving an attractive allure for new executive recruits coming out of the top ranks of the world’s big biopharma companies.

Stephen Knox

Take Assembly Biosciences $ASMB. The hep B biotech is executing a switch-up in R&D. Their CMO, Uri Lopatin, turned in his resignation and Assembly arranged to bring in a seasoned development vet — Stephen Knox — from Gilead to take charge of the development group while they start a search for a new CMO. His new title: Senior vice president.

Knox is credited with leadership roles on developing filgotinib, Gilead’s brightest late-stage asset — along with two top hep C drugs that have helped put that disease on the run. That’s right down Assembly’s alley. And to sign the new recruit, the San Francisco-based company set aside $1.7 million-plus in stock options that vest over 4 years. In addition to 110,000 shares of the company’s common stock with an exercise price of $15.55 per share, the closing price on April 22, there’s another 15,000 restricted stock units on the table, which also vest over 4 years.

Uri Lopatin

The way the vesting works, Knox gets the first 25% on his one-year anniversary and then accrues more on a month-to-month basis. And he’s trading a company with a market cap of $79 billion for one with a market cap of $397 million.

Lopatin, who co-founded the company and is now transitioning to an advisory role, is no stranger to the megaworld of R&D. He also is a Gilead vet.

The number of public biotechs has exploded over the past 5 years, supplying a whole new generation of companies added currency to woo fresh talent with. And that’s not restricted to the C-suite crowd.


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