Soon-Shiong outside his holding company headquarters in Culver City, Calif.
Never heard of him? Many people haven't. Until recently his reputation was strictly professional -- as a pioneering transplant surgeon at UCLA in the 1980s, a widely published researcher, and the inventor of the cancer drug Abraxane. But there was always another side to Soon-Shiong. "You just meet some guys in your life who know how to make money," says pharma analyst Elliot Wilbur of Needham & Co. "Patrick is one of those guys." In 1998, Soon-Shiong cobbled together loans to buy a struggling generic drugmaker. He turned the company around, used the profits to develop Abraxane, preserved his equity, and cashed out a decade later with two spectacular deals that catapulted him into the upper reaches of the American plutocracy.
With wealth has come a measure of fame, at least locally. He bought a piece of the Lakers in 2010 -- Magic Johnson's 4.5% -- and so gained a seat (four, actually) on L.A.'s most visible celebrity perch: courtside at the Staples Center. He made a very public run at the Dodgers last year and another at Philip Anschutz's global sports and entertainment conglomerate, AEG; both fell short but garnered lots of press. He and his wife, former TV actress Michele Chan, are L.A.'s newest A-list philanthropists. They're signatories to Warren Buffett's giving pledge, sustainers of the tony St. John's Health Center in Santa Monica (the Soon-Shiongs outrank Johnny Carson and everybody else on the lobby donor plaque), and rescuers of Martin Luther King Jr. Hospital in south L.A. His pal Peter Ueberroth calls Soon-Shiong "a true global citizen." Lawyer and personal adviser Ron Olson, a Berkshire Hathaway board member, says, "He's brilliant. He's high energy." Burt Bacharach (they met in a registration line at their kids' school and have vacationed together in Hawaii) wishes he could be "cloned" and says, "It would be good for the world."
Cloning may not be necessary. Soon-Shiong already has a plan to save the world. The next "arc of my career" is how he sometimes describes it; at other times he calls it his lifelong "mission." It's as if everything he has achieved so far -- as a clinician, as a researcher, and in business -- were mere prelude.
Simply put, Soon-Shiong believes we are on the cusp of a transformative moment in medicine. He is convinced that by leveraging all the cool stuff that's happening right now in mobile technology, supercomputing, machine vision, artificial intelligence, cloud storage, mega-high-speed data transmission, genomics, and proteomics, medicine will emerge at long last from the Dark Ages. He sees paradigm-shifting implications for how researchers develop new therapies and doctors diagnose and treat even the most terrifying diseases -- especially the terrifying ones. While he's not talking about a cure for cancer exactly (he has gotten in trouble with the C-word before), he is confident predicting that within a decade, "if we work really hard, we can rid ourselves of the fear of cancer." Cancer, in short, could soon become like AIDS -- "a chronic disease, not a killer."
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