Elusive Executives: Big Pharma

In days when Moderna and Pfizer are more household names than the Lakers and Nets, it might appear that our nation’s priorities have shifted. In an attempt to bring a face to the pharmaceutical industries, we compiled a list of some of the top executives at large biopharma companies and tell some of their most interesting/scandalous stories, because who doesn’t love some tabloid-style writing on some of the richest people in healthcare?

Stéphane Bancel (Moderna)

He was born in 1972 in France, earned his Master’s in Engineering from Paris-Saclay University, and later went on to earn a MBA from Harvard Business School. 

As the highest paid CEO in biopharma, Bancel collects a whopping $58.6 million in compensation from Moderna every year, as well as being a 9% owner—which was valued at over $1 billion, following the announcement of their phase 2 human trials for the COVID-19 vaccine.

Bancel has been called out for creating a work environment bereft of transparency. Although seemingly understandable, when this prevents outside review of Moderna’s research and results, the credibility of their research can be called into account. 

Former scientists at Moderna have gone to the press reporting his obsession with secrecy. They say some large investors only get bits of information before they wire money, which Moderna can do because it currently has so many people scratching at the door to get in. Although investors aren’t pulling out, other high-level executives are. 

Twelve executives have quit the company just in the past year. Because of the odd level of investment hype, some argue that Bancel is really running an investment firm that just hopes to get drugs approved.

In addition to his full time position with Moderna, Bancel is on the board of directors for both Qiagen and Syros Pharmaceuticals.

Albert Bourla (Pfizer)

Although Bourla earns significantly less than his peers in the industry, he still brings home $18 million a year. He was recently involved in a scandal after selling over $5 million worth of Pfizer stock just days after they released a press briefing on their solid progress developing the COVID-19 vaccine. 

While we’re on the subject of the COVID-19 pandemic, Bourla was raked over the coals after saying to the press that he intended for Pfizer to make a profit on their COVID vaccine while selling it at $19.50 per dose to the US government. 

Scrutiny and hackles both went up, because the US government paid for most of the research and development for the vaccine. However, Pfizer was not one of the companies who took advantage of this, and rather chose to fund R&D on their own.

John Kapoor (Insy Therapeutics)

Kapoor was born in 1942 to a poor family in Amritsar, India. Despite his ads, he went to Mumbai to study at the Institute of Chemical Technology to earn a degree in pharmacy. In search of more opportunity, Kapoor found a job at Invenex Pharmaceutical in New York State. 

Even since the beginning, Kapoor’s career has been plagued and stained with scandal. He moved to LyphoMed shortly after arriving in the US and worked his way up, only to be accused of low production standards in an attempt to increase profits.

Kapoor would bring his questionable business and medical practices to his own company, Insys Therapeutics. He was arrested in Arizona, perhaps inevitably, for allegedly bribing physicians to prescribe fentanyl, which is a very powerful opioid. He was later found guilty of RICO conspiracy, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and conspiracy to break anti-kickback laws.

Kapoor ended up being found guilty on all three counts in mid-2019 and was sentenced to five years in prison. However, Kapoor has yet to be locked up, due to delays resulting from the coronavirus.

The impact of crimes like Kapoor’s should be noted; the opioid epidemic has only been growing in the last year, and the United States saw 81,000 deaths occur from overdoses.