WASHINGTON — Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, an audacious biotech billionaire who has pledged to “solve health care,” has been in talks with the Trump administration about the possibility of serving in a senior role overseeing the US health care system, according to individuals familiar with the discussions.
Soon-Shiong, a trained surgeon, has met with President Trump and his advisers at least twice in recent weeks. During those discussions, he raised the possibility that he could serve as a “health care czar” with a broad portfolio in the administration as it seeks to reshape the health care system and replace the Affordable Care Act, according to two individuals, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Asked about the discussions, an adviser to Soon-Shiong told STAT that the word “czar” had not been used but did not dispute that the biotech mogul has discussed the possibility of taking on a senior role overseeing health care in the Trump administration.
“Dr. Soon Shiong was invited to meet the president and his team and had several meetings and discussions regarding health care issues of national importance, including the need to reform health care delivery rather than just payment,” said the adviser, Ronald Olson.
Aides to the president did not respond to multiple requests for comment, and it’s unclear what kind of reception Soon-Shiong received from Trump’s advisers.
In the past, “czar” has been the informal term for a high-level senior official in the White House given broad authority to devise policy on a specific issue. Nancy-Ann DeParle, director of former President Barack Obama’s office of health reform in the early years of his presidency, was the last person commonly referred to as a health care czar. She helped shape the Affordable Care Act from inside the White House.
Two former Obama White House officials told STAT that Soon-Shiong had previously pitched the Obama administration on a similar role. Olson denied that Soon-Shiong had sought a position in government during the Obama administration.
Despite never taking a role in the White House, Soon-Shiong did align his own initiatives with the those of the previous administration. He launched his Cancer Moonshot 2020 around the same time that Vice President Joe Biden undertook his cancer initiative, and Soon-Shiong served on the blue-ribbon panel of scientific advisers for Biden’s moonshot.
Soon-Shiong was also critical at times of health care reform under Obama. “The foundations and the intent of the Affordable Care Act are laudable,” he said in 2014. “The way it’s being implemented is a disaster.”
In addition to pledging to “solve health care,” Soon-Shiong has promised to “win the war on cancer.” He is worth an estimated $9 billion, a fortune made starting and selling pharmaceutical companies.
His company, NantWorks, has created more than 10 subsidiaries — though Soon-Shiong’s ventures have a mixed record. NantKwest (NK), focused on cancer immunotherapies, went public in 2015 at a record valuation, but its shares have since fallen more than 75 percent. Some of the tech that his companies have pursued have been met with skepticism by outsiders.
If Soon-Shiong were given a prominent role in the new administration, it would signal Trump is serious about putting unconventional people in charge of health and science issues. One of the most influential voices on those issues during the transition was Peter Thiel, another California billionaire, who has pushed candidates to lead the Food and Drug Administration and for other science and technology positions.