Soon-Shiong’s grand new project promises the closest thing that Earth has ever had to Star Trek’s fabled tricorder. In theory it will work like this: A cancer patient will arrive at the hospital for diagnosis. Everything from her DNA to the proteins in her blood will get instantly analyzed via a proprietary and superfast network, with the data collected automatically in real time–no pens, paper or clipboards. Within minutes computers will recommend which drugs to try. Once the patient is sent home, the same technology will travel with her, allowing doctors to continue to monitor her in real time, as hospital administrators evaluate the efficacy and costs of various procedures and medicines and compare notes with hospitals across the country.
This vision came during the approval process for Abraxane in 2005. Doctors were making bad decisions. One study found that two-thirds of pancreatic cancer patients received the wrong treatment.
He started buying companies to build his new machine. He grabbed Eviti, based in Philadelphia, which sold its services to insurers as a way to ensure that cancer doctors weren’t prescribing medicines improperly (and billing for their errors). Thirty oncologists and nurses pore over the latest medical journals to make sure the information is up to date.
He bought iSirona, a firm in Panama City, Fla. that’s attempting to connect hospital machines with electronic health record systems. Soon-Shiong now claims that it can integrate 6,000 different medical devices, including pulse oximeters, blood pressure monitoring devices and bathroom scales, as well as hundreds of different types of clinical and financial software from every major medical vendor.
There were other technologies, too: Qi Imaging, a tool that allows CAT scans and MRIs to be viewed on mobile devices; GlowCap, an $80 pill bottle that lights up when patients at home need to take their medicine and lets doctors know they are opening the cap. He purchased and refurbished the National Lambda Rail, a high-speed government computer network, at a cost of $100 million, so all this data could move quickly from place to place.
All of these pieces–and dozens more that he’s bought or built–combine into a corporate structure as byzantine as his overarching product. His 800 employees are splintered across offices in 14 cities, and NantWorks, the parent holding company, houses nine separate units, all with different investor groups and each apparently designed to trade independently as a tracking stock. The first IPO, as early as next year, will likely be NantHealth, his health care information technology play, poised to profit from new payment schemes created by ObamaCare. Investors include Verizon, Celgene, BlackBerry and the Kuwait Investment Authority. FORBES values NantHealth alone at $1.6 billion. FORBES values the entirety of Soon-Shiong’s Nant-related holdings at $7.7 billion.
The potential and pitfalls of Patrick Soon-Shiong’s medical Manhattan Project boil down to one statistic: 47 seconds. That’s the amount of time, the doctor/entrepreneur promises, it now takes for his amalgamated “supercomputer” to complete genomics analysis, all the way to identifying the individual protein in someone’s body that’s amenable to drug treatment. “It normally takes 11 weeks,” Soon-Shiong smiles.
Soon-Shiong says–and a number of experts believe–that he can already analyze 500 genomes a day, on par with the world’s most advanced DNA research centers, and will be able to do 4,000 a day by the end of next year.
Why compare your time against another (11 weeks) that no longer seems to exist? “Our best shot with software that’s proprietary is 15 minutes, and then there’s still plenty of work to be done,” says Eric Topol, the chief academic officer at Scripps Health. Ultimately, whether you can do it in 47 seconds or an hour or five isn’t really what’s important. Accuracy and cost are.
The Rise of Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong
In 1991, Patrick invented the drug that made his fortune: Abraxane, which packages the top-selling cancer drug, Taxol, inside the protein albumin. The idea was that tumors would eat the albumin and get the poison. In 2005 he won a huge victory: The FDA approved Abraxane. Then in 2007 the stock soared again. The firm was the only maker of the blood-thinner heparin whose product did not have to be recalled because of contamination that killed 81 people. Soon-Shiong split and sold the company, saying it was “two unique businesses.” The generics business, including heparin, went to Fresenius in 2008 for $4.6 billion. In 2010 the drug business, Abraxis, was bought by biotech giant Celgene for $4.5 billion. Soon-Shiong owned some 80% of each.
Despite Soon-Shiong’s insistence that Abraxane was “a breakthrough,” by 2011 sales were just $386 million–a middling success in the booming biotech sector. Then last year a study showed the drug extended the lives of pancreatic cancer patients by 1.8 months. Sales jumped 90% and are projected to hit $2 billion by 2017. Celgene’s stock–Soon-Shiong remains the largest individual shareholder–surged in lockstep.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
Known for identifying cutting edge technologies, he is currently a Co-Founder of a startup and fundraiser for high potential early-stage companies. He is the Head of Research for Allocations for deep technology investments and an Angel Investor at Space Angels.
A frequent speaker at corporations, he has been a TEDx speaker, a Singularity University speaker and guest at numerous interviews for radio and podcasts. He is open to public speaking and advising engagements.