Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, the peripatetic billionaire out to reinvent health care, is striking out in yet another new direction: Opening what he’s billing as a new world-class cancer center in Los Angeles.
Soon-Shiong, who made his fortune developing a cancer drug, already runs companies that sell health care software, perform genetic sequencing, and work on experimental cancer therapies aimed at boosting the immune system. He was just named to a federal commission advising on health IT. And he’s steering a ‘moonshot’ initiative that he boasts is moving toward curing cancer by 2020.
But at a recent event in Beverly Hills, he made clear that wasn’t enough.
He pointed to two Los Angeles organizations in which he holds a large financial stake — the Lakers and the Los Angeles Times — as examples of truly great institutions in the arenas of sports and media. “What we don’t have is a great cancer center,” Soon-Shiong said, according to the Los Angeles Business Journal.
So he’s pledged to open his own — this summer.
It turns out, though, that it’s not really Soon-Shiong’s personal project: He won’t own the clinic and in fact, has no financial interest in it. It’s all being set up by other (as-yet-unnamed) doctors.
He’ll simply be on staff in a new, a standalone oncology clinic staffed by private practitioners who will treat patients and conduct research, according to his spokeswoman, Jen Hodson. It won’t be affiliated with any of Soon-Shiong’s biotech companies, and it hasn’t been decided whether they’ll use it as a site for clinical trials, she said.
Hodson said the doctors running the clinic have secured the building and equipment and hired medical staff, but are still waiting for final regulatory clearance from the state.
Soon-Shiong’s latest project comes as he reels from the fallout of investigative reports from STAT and Politico that raised questions about his philanthropic and business initiatives. Since the publication of STAT’s second report, the stock price of his diagnostics company, NantHealth, has cratered. The company’s also been hit with investor lawsuits alleging violations of federal securities law. Most of them have since been dropped, but last month a Pennsylvania public employee pension fund filed a new suit.
But Soon-Shiong has continued to project confidence on social media and in events like the Beverly Hills conference, where he said he’d been keeping his plans for the cancer center quiet because he anticipated so much demand.
Los Angeles, of course, is already a hot spot for cancer treatment. It’s swarming with oncologists; Los Angeles County has approximately 600 of them, according to the physician social network Doximity.
And the greater metropolitan area has four cancer centers designated by the National Cancer Institute, a stamp of approval considered the gold standard in cancer care and research. That’s more than anywhere except New York City. (The four are at University of California campuses at Los Angeles and Irvine, the University of Southern California, and City of Hope.)
And the region’s profile gets even stronger when you add to the mix the top cancer center at Cedars-Sinai Hospital, which is known for attracting Hollywood’s rich and famous.
Soon-Shiong in 2013 unsuccessfully tried to buy the local community hospital St. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, as well as its affiliated cancer institute. The West Coast hospital chain Providence Health ultimately won the bid in 2014.
Meanwhile, Soon-Shiong is largely staying the course at his core companies.
His biotech startup, NantKwest, didn’t present any new data this week during the year’s big cancer meeting, at the American Society of Clinical Oncology. It did, however, put out a press release repeating its long-touted plans to test an experimental cancer therapy in multiple types of cancer.
Next week at NantHealth’s annual shareholder’s meeting in the Los Angeles area, investors are expected to re-elect four of the company’s five directors who accompany Soon-Shiong on the board. The fifth director, Dr. Edward Miller, an anesthesiologist who spent 15 years as CEO of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, will be leaving “for personal reasons,” according to a company filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
The change leaves Soon-Shiong as the only board member with medical or scientific backgrounds at NantHealth, which markets hospital software and a genetic test to recommend treatments for cancer patients. (Hodson said that doesn’t concern the company.)
The four remaining board members have built careers in finance or communications. Among them: Mark Burnett, the creator of President Trump’s old reality show “The Apprentice.”
Hodson said the board will determine whether to compensate for Miller’s loss by bringing in new advisers.
In other news, Soon-Shiong told the Los Angeles Business Journal that he anticipates combining three of his privately held biotech companies — NantBioscience, NantOmics, and NantCell — under the name “NantBio” by 2018 and then taking the company public.
He also disclosed a back up plan: If he does not achieve his goals to change health care in the U.S. by 2020, he will move to his native South Africa to try to do it there.