Patrick Soon-Shiong, a respected transplant surgeon from the University of California at Los Angeles turned entrepreneur and philanthropist, first became famous for inventing an important cancer drug. His idea involved packaging a tumor-poisoning substance inside the protein albumin, which is one of the main “foods” for cancer growth. The medication, Abraxane, is now used for a wide range of cancers and has been shown in clinical studies to extend patients' lives. He sold the company that makes the drug in 2010 for $4.5 billion, after having sold a different company in 2008 for $4.6 billion.
But the billionaire businessman with a personal net worth of $7.8 billion — who on Tuesday purchased the Los Angeles Times and its sister paper, the San Diego Union-Tribune, in a $500 million deal — has also been the subject of media investigations, criticism from the medical community and a handful of lawsuits.
Here are highlights of recent news coverage of Soon-Shiong:
In a 2014 Forbes cover article, reporter Matthew Herper delved into Soon-Shiong's “Medical Manhattan Project” to create a new model for treating cancer based on genetic sequencing of individual patients: “Soon-Shiong has an example, identified using Nant technology. A woman was suffering from cervical cancer and had had her genome sequenced. When it was fed into Nant's computers, they found that the human papilloma virus, which causes the cancer, had inserted itself into a gene called Her2. This is the target of the breast cancer drug Herceptin; when the woman was given Herceptin, a drug that would normally not be used for treating cervical cancer, her tumors shrank.”
“It's a great story,” Herper wrote, but “hype blurs the brilliance. Nant's analysis had a wonderful result for the patient, but it's hardly a medical breakthrough or even unique: Foundation Medicine, a cancer-genetics start-up backed by Bill Gates and Google Ventures, has touted a case where cancer in a woman's colon shrank because of a lung cancer drug.”
A spokesperson for Soon-Shiong contacted Wednesday did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
During the Obama administration, as covered in the health news site Stat, Soon-Shiong was a sought-after adviser by Vice President Joe Biden for his expertise and influence in cancer research. But soon after Biden announced an ambitious “moonshot” effort to cure cancer, Soon-Shiong announced his own separate effort, to the confusion of the medical community.
Stat delved into Soon-Shiong's cancer project and reported that it found “several instances of inflated claims, with the moonshot team taking credit for progress that doesn’t appear to be real.”
About a year ago, in January 2017, Soon-Shiong was spotted in Trump Tower in New York and reports appeared about the possibility of Soon-Shiong joining the then-president-elect's inner circle as a “health care czar” with a broad portfolio. The offer apparently never materialized.
In another extensive investigative piece, Stat reported that a $12 million donation Soon-Shiong gave to the University of Utah came with strings — that a large percentage of the work had to be done by one of his own companies. He has called the allegations “maliciously false.”
Politico questioned whether Soon-Shiong was using the NantHealth Foundation, his philanthropy and its “tax-free dollars to boost the bottom lines of his for-profit businesses.” A spokesperson has previously cited “numerous inaccuracies and misleading statements” in the Politico report but declined to elaborate. Soon-Shiong took to Twitter to defend himself.