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Gilead chief racks up best-CEO laurels for Sovaldi-fueled 2014

December 17, 2014
Life sciences
End-of-year bouquets are piling up for Gilead Sciences CEO John Martin. After winning top reviews from the Harvard Business Review for his 2014 performance, Martin has picked up a “best CEO” nod from a Tuck School of Business prof. And the investing site Motley Fool puts him among the year’s three “most exceptional” corporate chiefs.
 
You don’t have to look far for the first reason. It’s the $8.5 billion-plus launch of Sovaldi, the breakthrough hepatitis C drug. The drug’s Formula One-style performance makes Martin’s $11 billion Pharmasset buyout look like a bargain, though it seemed like a hefty price to pay back in 2011.
 
And now, Gilead has two sofosbuvir meds on the market: the original Sovaldi and a combo pill, Harvoni, which also includes a brand-new antiviral ledipasvir. The two-in-one treatment is already racking up impressive sales.
 
Yes, Gilead has come under fire for pricing both hep C drugs at $1,000 per pill and up. Payers are gnashing their teeth, and many patients can’t get access to the drugs, which are by far the most effective–and easy to tolerate–treatments on the market. But investor-oriented rankings don’t concern themselves with thorny public health debates.
 
Martin “successfully brought Sovaldi to market and embraced a pricing strategy that delivered significant value to investors,” Tuck professor Sydney Finkelstein said in announcing that Martin came in fourth on his list of top 5 CEOs of 2014.
 
HBR called Martin the second-best CEO in the world, for similar reasons. And Motley Fool points out that Gilead didn’t just pull off a hep C coup this year. The company also reaped the benefits from Stribild, its four-in-one HIV pill approved in 2013. The new treatment is a follow-up to Atripla, which combined three drugs from three different companies, so Gilead had to share the wealth. Stribild is a completely in-house project.
 
Of course, Martin doesn’t just win praise from outsiders. He’s rewarded handsomely by the company and its board. His $15.45 million in 2013 compensation put him 8th on FiercePharma’s list of highest-paid CEOs in biopharma.
 
By Tracy Staton
 

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