NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Stock performance has always been an important measuring stick for the Biotech CEO of the Year award. But in a year when seemingly every bio-pharma company -- even the worst of the bunch -- managed to deliver outsized returns, worthy nominees for Best Biotech CEO of 2013 had to bring more than a double-digit (or even triple-digit) jump in their stock price.
I actually had more worthy nominees (15) for the award this year than slots (5) in the final, which further exemplifies the kind of magical year it's been in bio-pharma land. To vet the crowd, I decided to group the potential Best Biotech CEOs into four categories -- Orphan Drugs, The Acquired, Big Pharma and Big Biotech -- and then pick a finalist from each. I tacked on one more nominee who didn't fit the categories but still deserved mention.
Without further adieu, the finalists for the Best Biotech CEO of 2013 are Francois Nader of NPS Pharmaceuticals ( NPSP), Tony Coles of Onyx Pharma (now Amgen ( AMGN)), Bristol-Myers Squibb's ( BMY) Lamberto Andreotti, Bob Hugin of Celgene ( CELG) and Ligand Pharma's ( LGND) John Higgins.
One of these executives will win the Swanson Trophy, named in honor of Robert Swanson, Genentech's founding CEO. He will inherit the award from last year's winner, Regeneron Pharma's ( REGN) Leonard Schleifer. Like in past years, your input will help choose this year's Best Biotech CEO.
Please read the nominating summaries and vote for your favorite candidate in the interactive poll at the end of the story. I'll tally your votes and award the trophy next week.
Francois Nader, NPS Pharmaceuticals
Investors like companies developing drugs for rare, orphan diseases. Investors love companies which can get these orphan drugs approved and launched successfully. Nader has done both exceedingly well, which is why he's a finalist for this year's Best Biotech CEO award.
NPS secured FDA approval of Gattex for adult short bowel syndrome in December of last year and launched the drug in early 2013. The drug was priced aggressively, which worried some people (myself included... ahem) about possible hiccups with reimbursement, but Nader and his NPS employees proved doubters wrong. On all measures -- patient demand, reimbursement, compliance and duration of treatment -- Gattex has exceeded expectations.
And then there's Nader's encore. NPS will be seeking FDA approval soon for its second orphan drug candidate -- Natpara for the treatment of hypoparathyroidism. If approved, Natpara will launch in the back half of 2014 with a significant commercial potential that isn't really factored into the value of the stock yet.
Who did Nader beat out in the Orphan Drugs category? Marc Beer of Aegerion Pharmaceuticals ( AEGR) deserves big-time kudos for overseeing the strong launch of Juxtapid. He could have easily won the finalist slot except for his CNBC miscue and lingering concerns about the long-term sustainability of Juxtapid revenue. [Aegerion lacks a second orphan drug to fall back on.]
Alnylam Pharma's ( ALNY) John Maraganore and Isis Pharma's ( ISIS) Stanley Crooke are leading teams making big strides in RNA interference and antisense technology, respectively. Both companies still fall into the speculative, development-stage camp but their achievements in 2013 are noteworthy.
Tony Coles, Onyx Pharmaceuticals (now Amgen)
I normally disqualify CEOs from contention for the award if they're no longer sitting in the big chair. It's my contest so I can change the rules if I want to, so this year I'm considering CEOs who sold their companies and rewarded shareholders.
No CEO engineered a better buyout for shareholders this year than Coles when Amgen acquired Onyx for $10 billion, or $125 per share. Lots of CEOs sell their companies but few buy an asset for less than $1 billion and sell it four years later for $10 billion. This is what Coles did, which is why he's a Best Biotech CEO finalist for the second year in a row. Well deserved.
Other honorable mentions in "The Acquired" CEO category: Viropharma's Vince Milano for the $4.2 billion takeout by Shire ( SHPG); Jeff Stein of Trius Therapeutics, acquired by Cubist Pharmaceuticals ( CBST); and Astex Pharma's James Manuso, who persuaded Otsuka Holdings to pay more than anyone else thought possible.
Lamberto Andreotti, Bristol-Myers Squibb
Why the hell is a Big Pharma CEO earning a nomination for a Best Biotech CEO award? Good question, but again, it's my contest so I'll do whatever I want. Besides, have you looked at Bristol's performance this year? The stock is up 56%, which is incredible for Big Pharma -- dare I call it "biotech-esque?"
Bristol -- and Andreotti, by proxy, owes its good fortune this year to the tremendous buzz surrounding a new class of cancer immunotherapies (PD-1 inhibitors) which are demonstrating breakthrough results in early and mid-stage clinical trials. In a three-way race to get anti-PD-1 drugs to market and capture billions of dollars in sales, Bristol's nivolumab is the frontrunner, ahead of programs underway at Merck ( MRK) and Roche ( ROG).
The runner-up in the Big Pharma category is Ian Read of Pfizer ( PFE) for spearheading a dramatic reshaping of the world's largest drug company and the very successful spin out of its animal business Zoetis.