Biotech Kahuna (Pg 5 of 5)

“We ended up with the safest supply of heparin in the U.S. after the Baxter recall because of the investment we made to make sure our plant in China was safe,” Soon-Shiong boasted.

APP’s market share soared, making the company a far more attractive target for the German distributor Fresenius. On July 7, 2008 Fresenius struck a deal to buy APP for $4.6 billion. Patrick Soon-Shiong’s personal 80 percent stake netted him $3.7 billion.

“I’ve never really focused on the money,” said Soon-Shiong on October 27, 2008, after the sale had closed. “I don’t feel any different, except that I have more liquidity to accelerate the things we want to do, with our philanthropy, investing in decreasing disparities in health care and helping to encourage a larger biotech industry here. I don’t anticipate changing my lifestyle. We live a pretty simple, quiet life. We still live in the same house, the kids’ weekly allowances are based on their grades and my daughter baby-sits.”

Soon-Shiong forgot to mention that he had already spent upwards of $30 million buying up the houses of seven of his closest neighbors in the Westgate Acres area of Brentwood to cobble together a combined 3-acre lot on which to build a mansion with an estimated 18,000 square-feet of living space. In 2006 Soon-Shiong had embarked on a secretive campaign to buy out his neighbors by paying $4.9 million for a modest ranch house that had belonged to the screenwriter of North by Northwest. By 2010 the Soon-Shiong family was still living in their original home on a 0.6-acre lot. But all around them construction crews dug up trees, filled in swimming pools and expanded one of the purchased houses into the future home of the Soon-Shiong family. This activity was proceeding behind a high fence of green plastic netting, but the disruption to the once-quiet neighborhood raised the heckles of neighbors. Soon-Shiong has refused to comment on the situation.

Meanwhile, by 2008 Soon-Shiong’s Abraxis BioScience (formerly American BioScience) had grown to employ nearly 5,000. Much of that growth came after Abraxane won FDA approval in 2005 to treat serious breast cancer cases that had turned metastatic. That year Abraxane sales of $315 million accounted for about 90 percent of Abraxis’s revenues and wasn’t quite enough to make Abraxis profitable. But Abraxane’s novel approach to delivering chemotherapy, as well as the research platform created to develop the drug, proved attractive to Celgene, a firm that had made its mark in the oncology field with drugs for blood-borne cancers.

In late June of 2010 Celgene bought Abraxis BioScience for $2.9 billion in cash and stock. Over 80% of Abraxis shares were owned by Soon-Shiong himself. The sale boosted Soon-Shiong’s personal fortune to somewhere around $6 billion, placing him comfortably among the world’s top 100 billionaires. That October Soon-Shiong indulged his longtime passion for basketball and the L.A. Lakers in particular by buying Magic Johnson’s 4.5% stake in the organization for an undisclosed amount.

Even while moving up the ranks of the world’s wealthiest entrepreneurs Soon-Shiong kept in touch with the future of healthcare. In 2009 he taught at UCLA as a visiting professor of microbiology, immunology, and molecular genetics and of bioengineering. He also served as the Executive Director of the UCLA Wireless Health Institute and chaired the National Coalition for Health Integration. This keen interest in making healthcare available to all, regardless of who and where appears to have been the motivation for his purchase in in early February 2011 of Vitality Inc, a Cambridge, Massachusetts startup that makes smart pill caps that monitor and report prescription adherence through a small home hub that links patients, doctors, pharmacies and healthcare systems wirelessly via the AT&T network. From Soon-Shiong’s visionary perspective, the technology offers the potential to evolve into a system for optimizing healthcare for the entire nation one home at a time.

“Our country needs a health care system designed to keep people healthy rather than waiting for them to get sick,” said Soon-Shiong. “As part of this goal, medication adherence is key. However, many people do not take their medications as prescribed which leads to unnecessary sickness and costly hospitalizations. GlowCaps addresses this problem brilliantly by making the medication packaging smart.”

Soon-Shiong’s interest in helping people extends beyond the business sphere. He and wife Michele have created a family foundation through which some of his wealth is funneled to expand healthcare to those who can’t wait for a utopian future to develop. The couple began by pledging $55 million to St. John’s Medical Center in nearby Santa Monica in 2008. Since then they have increased the pledge to over $100 mil. and has provided another $100 mil. in underwriting guarantees to help reopen L.A.‘s Martin Luther King Jr. Medical Center. The hospital had served impoverished South Central Los Angeles before being shut down in 2007 for repeated complaints of medical malpractice. In September of 2009 he joined Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and about three dozen other billionaires in making the pledge to donate half his wealth to charity.

Soon-Shiong has also gotten his daughter and son interested in helping the less fortunate.

“There’s a woman downtown, Sister Rose, who feeds between 200 to 400 people every day without a lot of fanfare,” he says. “A few years ago I wanted to show my children what she did. She gave us a tour. We come to find out that she has no bank account and was funding the food kitchen from cash donations and selling cardboard boxes for recycling.

“It was an incredible lesson for my kids to see what she and Father John, her partner, had been able to do with very few resources. We later arranged to get them some equipment and other help, practical things that would not overwhelm them. That was sort of the genesis of how we wanted to approach our giving. Writing a check can be the easy way, but not always the best way. I had to figure out what could I contribute, hands on, with my life experiences in health care. And my daughter now volunteers downtown and with other groups because of that experience.”

The family shares more than charitable work. Soon-Shiong carefully arranges his schedule so he can drive his daughter to school each day and to be there for her soccer games. He plays tennis with her as well. With his son he goes surf fishing for perch. The entire family surfs and plays basketball together.

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