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."
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.
Mann, who made his money founding and selling off a succession of medical device firms, was honored last week by the Los Angeles Venture Association for his philanthropy and his support of start-up companies. The association organizes networking events for angel and venture investors and start-up companies looking for funding. Mann's current commercial projects include MannKind Corp., which is developing an inhalable insulin device.
New Tower at Norris
While Tenet Healthcare Corp. may seem to have all but vanished from the Los Angeles market, the Dallas-based hospital operator has stubbornly hung on to what a spokesman once described as the "crown jewels" of the 64-facility chain: USC University Hospital and USC/Norris Cancer Hospital.
Last week, Tenet unveiled its new 146-bed Norris patient tower, which hospital officials say will offer some of the most advanced medical technology available to support cancer treatment.
"The Norris Inpatient Tower will significantly expand and enhance USC University Hospital's capacity for treating patients with cancer and other life-threatening illnesses and supporting advanced medical research," said Administrator Debbie Walsh in a statement.
Unlike most hospital construction now underway in the county, state-mandated earthquake retrofit was not the primary goal of the $150 million project, officials said.
Instead, the tower increases the combined hospitals' total number of licensed beds to 415. And the 11 operating rooms in the tower nearly double the university hospital's surgical capacity. Included among them are three ultra-modern operating suites that are primarily for cutting-edge minimally invasive surgeries.
A fourth suite will be equipped with highly advanced intra-operative magnetic resonance imaging equipment that will give surgeons real-time patient images and feedback during surgery, enabling them to perform even more precise neurosurgical procedures.
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