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Drug Company Insider Stock Dumping Surged as Taxpayer-Funded Vaccines Moved Toward Approval

WASHINGTON - Today, Accountable Pharma released a new report outlining the more than $250 million in insider stock sales by executives and directors at five major drug companies producing vaccines with taxpayer support, including $105 million in new profits from insider sales between September and mid-November.

“Drug company executives continue shamelessly shoveling eye-popping amounts of money into their pockets after pumping share prices up with announcements that would have never been possible without taxpayer investments,” said Eli Zupnick, spokesman for Accountable Pharma. “The Trump Administration should have included clear anti-profiteering provisions in the contracts handing billions of dollars to these drug companies, but since they didn’t, we are calling on the companies to freeze all insider stock sales until the SEC can investigate their legality and propriety.”

This new report builds on a previous report from Accountable Pharma that compiled executive trading data from the launch of Operation Warp Speed on May 15 through August 31, 2020 and found they made stock transactions valued at a net profit of more than $145 million.

On November 17th, SEC Chairman Jay Clayton called on drug companies to enact a “cooling off period” on their insider stock sale plans and make other changes to avoid potential insider trading and make sure companies are acting with “transparency and rigorous governance.”  Accountable Pharma has called for an SEC investigation and for freezes on insider stock sales at Moderna and Pfizer to prevent the kind of insider profiteering off of initial positive news that we’ve seen across the industry over the last few months.

Key points from report (read full report HERE):

From September To Mid-November, Execs At Four Drug Companies Involved In Operation Warp Speed Have Made Net Profit Of More Than $105M Dumping Their Companies’ Stock. According to SEC filings, from the beginning of September through November 15, 2020, executives and directors at four of the companies receiving COVID vaccine funding through Operation Warp Speed have made stock transactions valued at a net profit of more than $105 million. NOTE: Johnson & Johnson did not report any new individual insider transactions during this period.

CompanyNet Profit
Emergent BioSolutions$18,860,527.37
Moderna$50,406,146.77
Novavax$29,037,668.05
Pfizer$7,388,569.80
Total$105,692,911.99

 

  • The net profit of transactions from May 15-November 15, 2020 was $250.9 million; the total profit of these trades was $292.1 million.
  • These transactions were made by just 26 individuals, an average profit of more than $9.7 million per individual.
  • Moderna remained the most active trader overall, making 491 transactions valued at a net profit of $165.9 million
  • Novavax was an active trader in recent months – making 103 transactions valued at a net profit of $29 million from September 1-November 15. In contrast, from May 15 to August 31 – a period 4 weeks shorter – Novavax made 53 transactions valued at a net profit of $17.3 million. 
    • Novavax made the vast majority of the recent trades in a six-day period from September 26-October 1, bringing in a net profit of $26.2 million for four of its executives. Two days prior, on September 24, the company announced it was moving into Phase 3 trials for its COVID vaccine candidate
  • Pfizer’s CEO and EVP dumped 176,000 shares in the company at a net profit of $7.4M as stock prices surged the same day it announced positive initial trial results on its COVID vaccine candidate
  • Note that these trades do not account for these executives’ other, traditional compensation sources like salary, bonuses or most stock benefits.

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Additional background

CNN: Pfizer and Moderna could score $32 billion in COVID-19 vaccine sales in 2021 alone: The imminent authorization of Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine in the United States is a momentous occasion for science, the economy and humanity. The milestone is also a major moneymaker for the companies that developed the vaccines. Wall Street analysts are projecting Pfizer and Moderna will generate $32 billion in Covid-19 vaccine revenue — next year alone…“It is absolutely wrong for drug companies like Pfizer and Moderna to profiteer, and for their executives to make egregious personal fortunes, off of Covid-19 vaccines that have been so heavily subsidized and supported by American taxpayers,” said Eli Zupnick, a spokesman for Accountable.US, a progressive watchdog and patient advocacy group. [CNN, 12/11/20]

LA Times: Good vaccine news and a flurry of stock sales by executives. There’s a pattern, study finds: As they raced to develop vaccines against COVID-19, executives at some pharmaceutical companies collected huge windfalls by selling stock around the time their companies announced positive news about the vaccines..The Washington, D.C.-based progressive watchdog group Accountable has also called on the SEC to investigate the Pfizer and Moderna trades. [LA Times, 12/7/20]

CBS: Watchdog urges SEC to investigate vaccine maker Moderna: An anti-corruption watchdog group is urging the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to investigate top executives at Moderna, the biotech firm developing a promising coronavirus vaccine, for allegedly manipulating the stock market. “This misconduct was particularly egregious because it involved not only financial fraud and manipulation of the financial markets, but also because it exploited widespread fears surrounding the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” wrote Kyle Herrig, who heads Accountable.US, in a letter to the SEC. “I strongly urge the SEC to investigate these matters.”  [CBS, 6/3/20]

Reuters: Exclusive: Novavax executives could get big payday even if vaccine fails: One of the leading U.S. firms developing a coronavirus vaccine, Novavax Inc NVAX.O, has awarded executives stock options that could pay out tens of millions of dollars even if its efforts fail…“Drug companies like Novavax are getting billions of dollars from taxpayers to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, so it’s certainly concerning to see their executives get massive payouts before we know if the vaccine actually works,” said Eli Zupnick, a spokesman for consumer watchdog Patients Over Pharma. [Reuters, 7/22/20]

CBS: Moderna executives hiked their stock sales after announcing positive vaccine trial: Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel more than tripled the number of his company shares to be sold through an executive stock plan that was changed just days after the biotech in May announced positive early results for its coronavirus vaccine. …the fact that the plans were changed during the pandemic as news was emerging about the company’s closely watched coronavirus vaccine raises new questions about how Moderna executives have pocketed millions of dollars in recent months. “Once again, drug company executives have been caught playing games with their stock options,” Kyle Herrig, who heads the government watchdog group Accountable.US, said in an email to CBS MoneyWatch.The group last month urged the SEC to investigate top executives at Moderna for allegedly manipulating the stock market. “The SEC needs to investigate these stock-plan changes,” Herrig said. [CBS, 7/21/20]

Salon: Pharma execs dumped millions in stock for huge profits after getting pandemic contracts: Pharmaceutical executives continued to dump millions of dollars in stock in August despite criticism that they were profiting from big taxpayer-funded contracts awarded amid the coronavirus pandemic. Stock prices have soared for pharmaceutical companies like Moderna, which is developing a leading vaccine candidate, in no small part thanks to contracts awarded by the Trump administration. The top five executives at Moderna sold more than $89 million in stock in the first five months of the year, with about three times as many stock transactions as in all of 2019, according to Stat News….”It certainly doesn’t inspire much confidence to see drug company executives feverishly dumping their stock options and cashing out fortunes for themselves after stock prices were inflated by the billions of dollars the Trump administration shoveled into drug company coffers,” Eli Zupnick, a spokesman for the progressive watchdog group Accountable Pharma, told Salon. [Salon, 8/27/20]

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