The Nominees for Best Biopharma CEO of 2015 Are...

You'll notice a few changes to this year's roster of nominations for Best Biopharma CEO of 2015.

For starters, I widened the eligibility criteria to include Big Pharma and drug company CEOs, hence the change to "Best Biopharma CEO" from just "Best Biotech CEO." The latter was too limiting given all the criss-crossing ways in which traditional biotech and pharmaceutical technologies are merging together within single companies.

This year's nominees are all doers, not dreamers. I made a conscious decision this year to recognize CEOs who delivered real, tangible results for shareholders. They've all completed deals or demonstrated success selling approved drugs.

Lastly, I went big by grouping together a gang of biopharma CEOs who all sold their companies in 2015. The takeouts lauded here were valued at $1 billion or more. Some were far larger than that, but making a judgment about which deal was better than others seemed less important than recognizing them all equally.

Please read the nominating summaries and vote for your favorite candidate in the interactive poll at the end of the story. One of these executives, or the grouped nominees, will win the Swanson Trophy, named in honor of Robert Swanson, Genentech's founding CEO.

I'll tally your votes and award the trophy at the end of the week.

Brent Saunders, Allergan (AGN)

This nomination was easy. Saunders is the hottest executive in the biopharmaceutical industry today. Purists might furrow their brows over his aversion to basic drug discovery and research, but no one else comes close to matching his deal-making skills.

If the $160 billion merger between Allergan and Pfizer (PFE) closes next year, Saunders will lose his job to become president and chief operating officer of the combined drug giant. We all know that's just temporary. There's little doubt he'll ascend to the CEO chair in due time.

Dealmaking CEOs

  • Faheem Hasnain, Receptos (RCPT)
  • Sanj Patel, Synageva Biopharma (GEVA)
  • Bob Duggan, Pharmacyclics (PCYC)
  • Keith Leonard, Kythera Biopharma (KYTH)
  • Don Santel, Hyperion Therapeutics
  • Robert Alexander, ZS Pharma (ZSPH)
  • Gustav Christensen, Dyax (DYAX)


Blessed are the dealmakers, for they deliver super-sized returns to shareholders.

Mergers and acquisitions were a big story in biotech for 2015, particularly as company valuations reached stratospheric levels this past summer.

Combined, the CEOs on this list sold their companies for $48 billion this year. Almost half of that total was delivered by Bob Duggan when Abbvie (ABBV) acquired Pharmacyclics for $21 billion. Still, it didn't seem right to nominate Duggan alone without also praising the other CEOs for landing shareholder-friendly takeout deals.

The jury's out on whether the acquirers paid too much, but then, that's not any concern for these guys. Group nominations for Best Biotech CEO of the Year are unusual but deserving in this case.

 

Giovanni Caforio, Lamberto Andreotti, Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMY)

Another dual nomination because Caforio took over Bristol's CEO chair from Andreotti in a pre-planned, mid-year succession. Both men deserve a Best CEO nomination for overseeing a rapid expansion of Bristol's cancer immunotherapy franchise. In 2015, Bristol's blockbuster cancer drug Opdivo secured five FDA approvals and two approvals in Europe covering lung cancer, melanoma and kidney cancer. Another Opdivo application is pending in the U.S. and three more applications are under review in Europe. Globally, the drug is approved in more than 40 countries to date.

The speed at which Opdivo has become a new standard of care for so many different cancers is a testament to the drug's ability to harness a patient's immune system to recognize and kill tumors. Carforio and Andreotti deserve recognition for leading Bristol to move so quickly to transform Opdivo into a new, backbone cancer therapy.

John Martin, Gilead Sciences (GILD)

Flawless business execution is cool.

When the year started, Gilead was under siege from pharmacy benefit managers (cough, Express Scripts (ESRX) , cough) doing everything in their power to limit utilization of the company's hepatitis C drugs Sovaldi and Harvoni because of their price -- $84,000 and $95,000, respectively. These drugs cure more than 95% of the hepatitis C patients who take them for just 12 weeks, but still, investors worried reimbursement roadblocks set up by insurers plus outrage from politicians over over Gilead's pricing strategy would cause irreparable harm to the business.

As 2015 nears a close, Gilead, under Martin's leadership, proved the worrywarts wrong. Sovaldi and Harvoni have delivered more than $14 billion in revenue to Gilead in the first nine months of the year. Neither competition from Abbvie and Bristol-Myers nor the efforts of PBMs like Express Scripts have stopped Gilead from maintaining a phenomenal 90%-plus market share in hepatitis C.

Martin also deserves kudos for something he didn't do in 2015: Making an expensive acquisition despite the pleas from nearly everyone to do a big, transformative deal. It would have been relatively easy for Gilead to overpay for assets in 2015, but by being patient, Martin can probably buy something cheaper next year.

Paul Berns, Anacor Pharmaceuticals (ANAC)

Anacor sells a topical cream for toe fungus and is developing another drug to treat itchy skin rash. These aren't exactly the sexiest products, yet Anacor shares are up 265% year to date. That's good enough to land Berns a Best Biotech CEO nomination for 2015.

Make sure to vote! 

 

 

Adam Feuerstein writes regularly for TheStreet. In keeping with company editorial policy, he doesn't own or short individual stocks, although he owns stock in TheStreet. He also doesn't invest in hedge funds or other private investment partnerships. Feuerstein appreciates your feedback; click here to send him an email.

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