Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla sold a big chunk of his shares on the same day the company announced very promising news on a coronavirus vaccine, according to an SEC filing. Bourla sold shares worth $5.6 million as the company's stock price soared on Monday, but the company says it was part of a predetermined 10b5-1 plan for Bourla to sell off some of his Pfizer shares. A Pfizer spokeswoman tells CNN that the shares were sold because they hit a price set as part of a plan Bourla authorized in August. "These are predetermined plans managed through a third-party stock administrator," the spokeswoman said when asked whether the CEO had considered delaying the sale. The company says Bourla still holds "approximately nine times his salary in Pfizer stock."
Predetermined 10b5-1 plans are intended to shield executives from accusations of insider trading, but the Pfizer CEO's stock sale plan was implemented on Aug. 19, the day before the company made an earlier major announcement on the vaccine's progress. Daniel Taylor, an expert in insider trading at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, tells NPR that the timing looks "very suspicious." "It's wholly inappropriate for executives at pharmaceutical companies to be implementing or modifying 10b5-1 plans the business day before they announce data or results from drug trials," Taylor says. Execs at Moderna, another company working on a COVID vaccine, also changed or adopted stock-trading plans just before major announcements. (Read more Pfizer stories.)