Growing a cancer drug franchise and developing cutting-edge, genetic therapies requires somewhat different mind-sets, believes Abraxis BioScience Inc. Chief Executive Patrick Soon-Shiong.

And that's what led the founder of the Los Angeles-based biotech to propose that its experimental programs be spun off into a new company.

Abraxis' board last week approved creation of Abraxis Health Inc., which will focus on identifying genetic-based markers that detect disease and help create personalized therapies. The new company, which Soon-Shiong said will eventually go public, takes with it some of the noncancer experimental drugs and technologies Abraxis has accumulated though acquisitions in recent years.

"I truly believe that personalized medicine using genetic biomarkers is the next generation of how we'll treat diseases," said Soon-Shiong, a former UCLA researcher who has become increasingly active in national efforts to coordinate genetic medicine research. "The infrastructure in this country doesn't exist yet, but I believe Abraxis Health can take a leadership position."

The split also will enable Abraxis BioScience to better concentrate on developing new markets for its breast cancer drug Abraxane, which is involved in 81 studies that could expand its use as a treatment for a variety of cancers. The drug hit $334 million in sales for 2007 and sales for the first three quarters of last year approached $246 million.

Soon-Shiong, who controls more than 80 percent of Abraxis BioScience common shares, will continue to serve as chief executive and chairman of both companies. Abraxis BioScience shareholders will receive shares of Abraxis Health and continue to hold their stock in Abraxis BioScience.

Off-Shore Learning

Located in the heart of the Port of Los Angeles, National Polytechnic College of Science had its origins as a professional diving school, with graduates often snagging high-paying jobs as commercial divers, underwater welders or specialty medics on off-shore oil rigs.

While diving professions remain Polytechnic's bread and butter, health care vocations are an increasingly important part of the private non-profit's curriculum. The college brings the two disciplines closer together next month when starts its first classes at a unique floating campus in the port.

A converted former U.S. Navy barge has been rechristened Discovery, and will provide Polytechnic a combination classroom and laboratory at the port, where office space is increasingly hard to come by. Facilities include multiple-deck hyperbaric chambers where advanced dive medicine students learn how to treat divers suffering from decompression sickness, also known as the "bends."

"On the one hand, Discovery is a learning environment that provides students with training that closely simulates the conditions they will experience in the real world," said Kathleen Winston, who took over this month as the college's president. "On the other, Discovery has the same first-rate facilities and classrooms that you would find at a traditional campus of higher education. It truly is unique."

Winston's background is as a nursing instructor and administrator, reflecting the college's expansion of its allied health program. In addition to its advanced dive medicine and hyperbaric technician programs, the school expects to launch respiratory therapy and associate degree nursing programs in the coming year. Paramedic and physical therapy programs also are in the works.

The college is an affiliate of La Jolla-based National University System.

Hospital Cutbacks

Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Burbank is probably one of the financially healthiest hospitals in L.A. County. But that hasn't made it immune from the revenue worries that have pushed other, more fragile local hospitals into bankruptcy.

The Providence Health and Systems-affiliated hospital last week said it laid off 95 of its 2,517 employees and closed four nonacute care programs that administrators determined could be better handled by other nearby facilities.

"St. Joseph wants to stay in the black," said hospital spokeswoman Patricia Aidem.

Affected programs include urgent care, foot care for diabetics, and occupational health, plus a transitional care unit, which prepares patients to be transferred to convalescent hospitals or other facilities.

About two-thirds of the workers were from those programs, with other cuts coming from different departments. With Southern California suffering an acute shortage of health care workers, Aidem said hospital officials hope they can find other jobs for most, if not all, of the employees at one of Providence's four other hospitals in the county.

St. Joseph's challenges are far from unusual in the state. A recent California Hospital Association survey of hospital chief financial officers found a 30 percent decrease in volume for elective procedures , one of the few areas that provide hospitals with more generous reimbursements from insurers.

Staff reporter Deborah Crowe can be reached or at (323) 549-5225, ext. 232.

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