Chief executives of mRNA vaccine groups earn $100m in pandemic pay

Bosses of Pfizer, BioNTech and Moderna also see paper wealth grow as share prices surge

The chief executives of Pfizer, BioNTech and Moderna have shared more than $100 million (€90.25 million) in pay during the pandemic, reflecting the huge commercial success of the mRNA Covid vaccines developed by their pharmaceutical companies.

Albert Bourla of Pfizer, Ugur Sahin of BioNTech and Stéphane Bancel of Moderna have also seen their paper wealth grow over the past two years because of share price increases driven by investor enthusiasm for companies developing Covid-19 vaccines and treatments.

The mRNA vaccines have transformed the companies developing them and prompted a surge in share prices. Pfizer’s stock price is up 60 per cent over the past 24 months, while the value of BioNTech and Moderna’s shares has tripled and increased by five times, respectively.

Moderna’s Mr Bancel and Mr Sahin of BioNTech have become paper billionaires as a result of their 7.8 per cent and 17.1 per cent shareholdings in the companies, which are worth about $5.4 billion and $7.8 billion, respectively.

An analysis of the remuneration packages of the mRNA vaccine makers in 2020 and 2021 shows that Pfizer chief Mr Bourla was awarded the biggest pandemic pay rise. He received $45.3 million in 2020-2021, compared with $27.7 million in 2018-2019, a period during which he was promoted from chief operating officer to chief executive in January 2019.

Mr Sahin received $30.8 million in remuneration in 2020-21, compared with $8.5 million in 2018/2019.

Mr Bancel’s total remuneration fell during the pandemic, declining from $67.5 million in 2018-2019 to $31.1 million in 2020-2021. But that was primarily because of a one-off gain following Moderna’s IPO in 2018 which netted him $58.6 million of stock option gains.

Divided views

Some campaigners have criticised the pay packets , accusing the companies of unfairly profiting from the pandemic and not doing enough to ensure low-cost access to jabs in poor nations.

"Bancel, Bourla and the other vaccine kings built a royal fortune predicated on a monopoly business model that has driven vaccine apartheid," said Steve Knievel, access to medicines advocate at Public Citizen, a progressive think tank.

But there has been little pushback by investors that have been richly rewarded for backing the companies.

"The vaccines provided an incredible return on investment from a societal perspective," said Akash Tewari, analyst at Jefferies, an investment bank.

Mr Bancel has cashed in on the phenomenal rise in market capitalisation of Moderna by selling $404 million of shares since January 2020, according to data from Verity. Mr Bourla sold $5.6 million of shares on the same day that Pfizer and BioNTech said their vaccine was 90 per cent effective against Covid.

Mr Sahin has not made any significant share sales. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2022

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