9 Top Biopharma CEO-to-Employee Pay Gaps

Pictured: A graphic showing figures on opposing coin stacks/Taylor Tieden for BioSpace

Pictured: A graphic showing figures on opposing coin stacks/Taylor Tieden for BioSpace

Last year, empowered by new SEC reporting guidelines, BioSpace released its inaugural annual CEO pay gap report, looking at how much more top biopharma executives earned than their employees in 2022. Results showed that many biopharma executives earn more than 200 times what the company’s median employee makes.

Looking at 2023 data, we found that little has changed. Despite investor dollars being hard to come by and the Biden administration pushing forward with its campaign to lower drug prices, the top biopharma firms still shelled out two orders of magnitude more money to CEOs than to median employees.

Multiple companies have downsized their pipelines and operations, laying off thousands of workers across the industry. Some CEOs have even taken pay cuts to help the company’s bottom line.

Famously, Pfizer’s Albert Bourla took a 35% reduction in compensation, with his pay dropping from $33 million in 2022 to $21.6 million last year. But while the ratio of Bourla’s salary to that of the company’s median employee lessened since 2022, he was still paid nearly 300 times the median salary, maintaining Pfizer’s spot near the top of BioSpace’s list.


Big Biopharma Pay Gaps

BioSpace highlights some of the largest ratios of CEO total compensation to median employee comp in 2023

CEO-employee pay gaps/Nicole Bean for BioSpace


1. Teva Pharmaceuticals | 398:1

  • CEO Richard Francis: $25,706,880
  • Median employee pay: $64,562

While CEO Richard Francis was not the highest-paid CEO in the industry in 2023, Teva’s employees made only a median of $64,562—the lowest on BioSpace’s top 9 list—granting the multinational company the top spot on the 2023 pay gap ranking. This is likely due in part to the fact that Teva is based in Israel, where the cost of living is lower than in the U.S. Teva, which filed a 2023 proxy statement with the SEC, is the only non-U.S. company included in this analysis.

Teva had a strong 2023. The company made more than $15.8 billion, representing a 7% increase from its $14.9 billion revenue in the year prior. Mirroring this growth, the CEO compensation package jumped from $15.5 million in 2022—Kåre Schultz was the company’s chief at the time, before retiring in November 2022—to Francis’ total compensation of $25.7 billion in 2023.

The cornerstone of Teva’s business is its generic products, which in 2023 brought in $3.48 billion, down 2% from 2022. Teva also saw declining sales for its multiple sclerosis therapy Copaxone and chronic lymphocytic leukemia chemotherapy Bendeka. These were offset by a 27% surge in the earnings of Austedo, its extended-release tablets for Huntington’s disease chorea and tardive dyskinesia.

2. Johnson & Johnson | 338:1

  • CEO Joaquin Duato: $28,422,037
  • Median employee pay: $84,000

With total compensation of $28.4 million, J&J head Joaquin Duato is the highest-paid CEO on this list, according to BioSpace’s analysis. Meanwhile, J&J’s median employee pay was comparatively low at $84,000, resulting in one of the industry’s widest pay gaps.

Despite the expiration of key patent protections for its blockbuster antibody Stelara, J&J saw a 6.5% surge in revenues last year, which increased from almost $80 billion in 2022 to $85.16 billion in 2023. In turn, Duato received a large jump in compensation, which more than doubled from $13.1 million to $28.42 million—the highest pay hike of any CEO on BioSpace’s list.

J&J’s growth was driven primarily by its cancer business, which grew by 10.5% to $17.7 billion in 2023.  Stelara still reigned as the pharma’s most profitable asset, surging 11.7% to bring in $10.86 billion in sales.

3. Pfizer | 291:1

  • CEO Albert Bourla: $21,562,064
  • Median employee pay: $74,008

Despite his 35% pay cut, Pfizer’s Albert Bourla is still among the highest-paid CEOs in biopharma and earns nearly 300 times more than his company’s median employee does. Pfizer also has the second-lowest median employee pay in BioSpace’s ranking, once again contributing to the large pay gap ratio.

Pfizer is among the pharma companies most severely affected by the dwindling COVID-19 market. In its full-year 2023 business report, the pharma posted a 42% decline, with revenues dropping from more than $100 billion in 2022 to $58.5 billion last year. In the third quarter of 2023, Pfizer recorded its first quarterly loss since 2019. To shore up its financial position, the company in October 2023 launched a sweeping cost-cutting initiative designed to save $3.5 billion through 2024.

4. Merck | 183:1

  • CEO Robert Davis: $20,273,287
  • Median employee pay: $110,827

At $20.2 million, Merck chief Robert Davis is one of the lowest-paid CEOs on this ranking, but he still got paid nearly 200 times more than the median employee in 2023.

Merck owns Keytruda (pembrolizumab)—a PD-1 inhibitor indicated for several cancers—which was the industry’s top-selling asset last year, according to data analytics website Statista. In 2023, Keytruda’s sales grew 19% and brought in more than $25 billion, heavily contributing to Merck’s total revenue of $60.1 billion.

5. AbbVie | 169:1

  • CEO Richard Gonzalez: $25,661,972
  • Median employee pay: $151,991

Richard Gonzalez’s total compensation was nearly $25.7 million in 2023, a slight decrease from his pay of $26.2 million the year prior. This dip contributed to a smaller pay gap, with the ratio dropping from 224:1 to 169:1.

AbbVie logged a total global net revenue of $54.3 billion in 2023, representing a 6.4% decrease from the year prior. The pharma attributed this decline to increasing biosimilar erosion for its blockbuster antirheumatic medication Humira. Currently there are at least five Humira biosimilars in the U.S. market. Despite increasing competition, Humira remained AbbVie’s best-performing asset last year, bringing in a worldwide total of $14.4 billion.

6. Eli Lilly | 168:1

  • CEO David Ricks: $26,565,732
  • Median employee pay: $157,937

With a total compensation of almost $26.6 million, Eli Lilly head David Ricks is the second most highly paid CEO on BioSpace’s list. This big paycheck heavily contributed to the pharma’s large pay gap, even though the median employee compensation of $157,937 was also relatively high.

Lilly reported a full-year revenue of $34.1 billion in 2023, which corresponds to 20% growth, driven by the strong performance of its diabetes and obesity portfolio. The pharma’s type 2 diabetes drug Trulicity was its top asset, earning $7.1 billion last year, while Mounjaro, one of its fastest-growing products, raked in $5.2 billion. Despite only winning approval in November 2023, Lilly’s weight-loss treatment Zepbound still managed to bring in nearly $176 million.

7. Amgen | 136:1

  • CEO Robert Bradway: $22,643,650
  • Median employee pay: $166,322

At $166,322, Amgen had the second-highest median employee pay in 2023 of our top 9. In turn, despite a large compensation package of $22.6 billion for CEO Robert Bradway, the pharma found itself below some of its competitors in terms of pay gap.

In 2023, Amgen posted nearly $28.2 billion in revenue, up from $26.3 billion in 2022. Much of this growth was driven by its postmenopausal osteoporosis therapy Evenity and acute lymphoblastic leukemia treatment Blincyto. The hyperlipidemia medication Repatha, which brought in $1.64 billion last year, also saw strong growth at 26%. Amgen’s best-selling asset in 2023 was the osteoporosis therapy Prolia, which earned over $4 billion.

8. Bristol Myers Squibb | 130:1

  • CEO Giovanni Caforio: $19,661,434
  • Median employee pay: $151,172

Before retiring in November 2023, former BMS chief Giovanni Caforio had a compensation package reaching almost $19.7 million, which is the lowest of the CEOs in BioSpace’s list. Meanwhile, the median employee pay at BMS last year was relatively high at $151,172, resulting in a comparatively small pay gap among these biopharma giants. Caforio was succeeded by former BMS COO Christopher Boerner.

BMS brought in $45 billion in 2023, a 2% decline from its revenue in 2022. The pharma blamed the dip on the 39% plunge in sales of its multiple myeloma therapy Revlimid, which was only partially offset by the 10% jump in its cancer treatment Opdivo. BMS’ top asset last year was the anticoagulant Eliquis, which raked in more than $12.2 billion.

9. Gilead Sciences | 110:1

  • CEO: Daniel O'Day, $22,607,690
  • Median employee pay: $205,866

At over $205,000, Gilead’s median employee pay is the highest of all the companies on BioSpace’s top 9 list. Meanwhile, CEO Daniel O’Day brought in a relatively low total of $22.6 million.

The pharma recorded a total global revenue of $27.1 billion in 2023, a slight drop from nearly $27.3 billion in 2022. Sales of Gilead’s COVID-19 antiviral treatment Veklury plunged 44% to $2.2 billion last year. The company made up for this drop through its HIV and oncology businesses, which grew by 6% and 37%, respectively.  

In its year-end report, the pharma revealed that its breast cancer therapy Trodelvy missed its primary endpoint in the Phase III EVOKE-01 study, failing to significantly improve overall survival versus docetaxel in non-small cell lung cancer.


Pay Gaps Pervade Life Sciences Industries

This year BioSpace’s analysis strictly focused on the top biopharma companies with SEC filings disclosing the pay gap ratio between CEO and median employee. It is worth noting that at least some foreign companies that don’t file these SEC forms, but for which we do have similar information, also had triple digit pay gaps. U.K.-based AstraZeneca, for example, reported a 182:1 ratio between its CEO’s remuneration and that of its median employee. This year’s list also excludes Viatris, which has not yet filed its proxy statement for 2023, but based on 2022 data would have topped the list with a ratio of 424:1.

We also focused exclusively on biopharma companies this year, excluding service providers, financial firms and healthcare organizations. Many of these peripheral players would have topped the list otherwise. Bausch + Lomb, a consumer eye health company, would have easily claimed the top spot, with a pay gap ratio of almost 898:1.

Volatility in Pay Gaps

In the second year of doing this survey of CEO-employee pay gaps in biopharma, BioSpace noticed some extreme jumps in the data. Two interesting cases came from smaller biopharma companies that were eliminated from this year’s analysis due to their size, but wouldn’t have made the list anyway because their pay gaps fell considerably compared with 2022. While Sarepta Therapeutics and Biogen opened and closed last year’s top 20, with ratios of 494:1 and 182:1, respectively, those numbers were just 5:1 and 23:1 in 2023.

Sarepta CEO Doug Ingram’s total comp was nearly $125 million in 2022, though his base salary was just over $740,000. The bulk of his compensation came from stock awards and options agreements. Without these extras, Ingram’s compensation fell to $1.66 million in 2023, comparable to 2021. Meanwhile, Biogen chief Christopher Viehbacher’s 2022 compensation was inflated by his $30.5-million sign-on package when he agreed to lead the pharma that November. Last year, Viehbacher’s pay was $4.1 million.

Methodology

In coming up with this report, BioSpace collected data from the SEC filings of the top U.S. biopharma companies by 2023 revenue to identify those firms with the widest pay gaps between the CEO and the median employee. We considered only those companies that filed Schedule 14a proxy statements reporting this information for 2023. Even still, the SEC allows a company to “select its methodology for identifying its median employee and that employee’s compensation,” as long as its methods are “reasonable.” As such, directly comparing pay gap ratios between companies could be inconclusive or misleading. 

Tristan Manalac is an independent science writer based in Metro Manila, Philippines. Reach out to him on LinkedIn or email him at tristan@tristanmanalac.com or tristan.manalac@biospace.com.

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