For most of his adult life, Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong has concentrated on building his business, first as a UCLA surgeon and researcher, then as founder of the Los Angeles drug development company Abraxis BioScience Inc.

Now in his early 50s and one of Los Angeles County's wealthiest people, the South African-born biopharmaceutical executive not previously known for his philanthropy is turning attention to his legacy.

Soon-Shiong is promising that he and his wife's $35 million gift to St. John's Health Center that was announced last week won't be the last such medically-related charitable contribution.

"I believe you have to establish a sustainable philanthropy," said Soon-Shiong, noting that he and his wife, Michele Chan, have given a lot of thought as to how to structure their giving. "My model is to use my own personal skill sets. I'm a physician, a scientist and I also understand all the obstacles of drug development. This is certainly the beginning of what I would consider the next chapter of my career."

The Los Angeles Business Journal estimates Soon-Shiong's net worth at more than $4 billion, primarily from his majority stake in the pharmaceutical company Abraxis, created last year by the merger of two companies he founded in the mid-1990s.

Much of the gift will help the Santa Monica hospital finish its earthquake retrofit and expansion project. But in a reflection of Soon-Shiong's own struggles to bring his proprietary Abraxane cancer treatment to market, $10 million will help start the Chan Soon-Shiong Center for Translational Sciences.

The center is aimed at speeding the research-to-patient care timeline for innovative research, such as adult stem cell therapies and nanotechnology. It also will focus on difficult diseases like multiple sclerosis, diabetes and cancer. The center may even become a site for clinical trials.

"There are these silos among basic scientists, applied scientists and physicians that really should be broken," Soon-Shiong said. "There's this gap between when a discovery is made and how we validate it quickly rather than wait five or twenty years. Having it all on the same campus is one way."

Mann Honored

While Soon-Shiong cites Bill Gates and Warren Buffet as his philanthropic muses, his planned translational sciences center has much in common with the USC Alfred Mann Institute for Biomedical Engineering. L.A. billionaire Al Mann has been trying to establish these incubators at institutions around the world in an effort to bring medical device research to market sooner.