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Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong wants to help redefine cancer care through genomic medicine

Billionaire doc Soon-Shiong's next goal: redefine cancer care

By Bob Herman
Posted: August 6, 2014 - 1:15 pm ET

Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong is one of the most well-known surgeons in healthcare. He's worth billions of dollars, thanks to several medical and pharmaceutical breakthroughs. He's also a minority owner of the NBA's Los Angeles Lakers.

So why has the philanthropist and entrepreneur decided to take a new job with Renton, Wash.-based Providence Health & Services? Simple, he said. He wants to help redefine cancer care for the masses through genomic medicine, which studies how people's most basic genetic structures influence disease.

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“This is the final clinical combination of a decade's worth of pursuits, recognizing once the human genome was discovered that the world of cancer care will change to cancer genomics,” Soon-Shiong, 62, said in an interview.

Providence last week appointed Soon-Shiong as its global director for cancer services and bioinformatics. Through his Chan Soon-Shiong Institute of Molecular Medicine, he and Providence also plan to build what they call the country's first clinical genomic network for whole-genome sequencing.

That sequencing center has the potential to change how physicians treat cancer patients, officials said. Instead of prescribing a cancer treatment simply on a diagnosis, Providence hopes to analyze a cancer patient's genetic data in a matter of seconds, and then tailor a course of action specific to that patient's molecular makeup.

“With Providence, there's an opportunity to take one of the largest healthcare systems on the West Coast, with 25,000 new diagnoses of cancer patients each year and 100,000 cancer patients across five different states, and institute this whole new paradigm of cancer care that is evidence-based and genomic-driven,” Soon-Shiong said.

Part of the difficulty of a project of this size and breadth is infrastructure, he said. The obstacle is similar to what accountable care organizations face as they try to coordinate care for highly uncoordinated processes split among several groups of clinicians.

“Over the course of the last decade, the challenge for us, which is an exciting challenge, was how do you create virtual organizations—which include a primary-care physician, or a pulmonologist, or an oncologist or urologist—who work together across the community? That's really the most important point I'm making,” Soon-Shiong said. “At the time of the interaction of patient and doctor, all the information about the patient and all the information in next-generation science is available in real time before you initiate treatment.”

When asked if this type of initiative would be a cost burden, Soon-Shiong and Dr. Randy Axelrod, executive vice president of clinical and patient services at Providence, said not at all. Rather, cancer genomics has the potential to reduce treatment costs upfront by making clinical decision-making more accurate and efficient, they said. Pharmaceutical companies and insurers also have expressed interest in the potential of cancer-genome sequencing.

“From a practical standpoint, the financials take care of themselves by doing the right thing first, and by advancing the clinical knowledge using the genomics,” Axelrod said.

“It allows us to understand the cost, as well as understand the care that is given, so we can understand outcomes in real time,” Soon-Shiong added. “It allows us to drive what you call population health management and coordinated care, and that is so critical in today's value-based care system.”

Providence's sequencing center is expected to be operating in earnest by October. It will use the HiSeq X Ten genome sequencing system, a device created by San Diego-based tech company Illumina.

Follow Bob Herman on Twitter: @MHbherman

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