Soon-Shiong unfazed by critics as he touts new cancer therapy
Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, the controversial biotechnology billionaire, thinks he is one step closer to curing cancer with his newest treatment and said he isn't concerned about critics who call his efforts nothing more than an overhyped ruse.
In an interview with Modern Healthcare, Soon-Shiong said his company's new cancer therapy, called the Nant cancer vaccine, gets to the root causes of the disease and effectively treats it. He also said recent reports that question the success of his company's therapies are based on "ignorance," which he "ignores."
NantWorks, the health technology company owned by Soon-Shiong, announced Tuesday at the 2017 annual American Society of Clinical Oncology conference in Chicago that its Nant cancer vaccine will soon participate in clinical trials to treat a wide range of cancers including lung, breast and colon cancers. The therapy was also approved last month by the Food and Drug Administration for a clinical trial to treat pancreatic cancer patients.
Soon-Shiong said the vaccine is a culmination of 25 years of research, and it's an effective approach to cure the estimated 1.6 million patients diagnosed with cancer each year. He said the treatment "is the first attempt to change the paradigm of care in which we don't actually wipe out the immune system." He said current cancer treatments harm a patient's immune system—unlike the Nant vaccine, which gives patients specific dosages of targeted treatments. NantWorks is able to know what drugs work best for specific tumors by sequencing the genetic makeup of a patient's tumor with its GPS Cancer tool, he said.
"I believe cancer is like an infectious disease," Soon-Shiong said. "Once we understand the biology of the tumor and how it moves and changes, we can outsmart it."
The vaccine is key to Soon-Shiong's larger effort to eradicate cancer by 2020. Called Cancer Breakthroughs 2020, the goal is for 20,000 patients to participate in immunotherapy treatments in less than three years.
But critics have called into question the effectiveness of NantWork's therapies, claiming Soon-Shiong falsely inflates his company's successes.
NantHealth has lost more than $300 million since it was founded nearly seven years ago.
Last summer, STAT news reported that Soon-Shiong has been using his vaccine as a marketing vehicle for GPS Cancer, which was key to NantHealth's commercial success.
STAT also accused Soon-Shiong of making a $12 million donation to the University of Utah for research in a contract that requires the University return $10 million back to NantHealth to pay for genetic sequencing. NantHealth's stock prices took a beating as a result of the reports.
Additionally, three investors sued Soon-Shiong and NantHealth, alleging violations of federal securities law.
Soon-Shiong dismisses the critics, saying there are hundreds of physicians who acknowledge his treatments work. "The proof is in the outcomes," he said.
He adds that his experience in drug development and interoperability will be helpful in his advisory role with the Trump administration. He was recently appointed to a 25-member committee to address health information technology policy. Soon-Shiong said he will be able to offer "real world advice."
He also called the Affordable Care Act a failure, arguing it doesn't effectively address value-based care and instead focuses too much on increasing access through insurance. He said he hopes the Trump administration will make greater strides in the push to outcomes-based reimbursement. "There is an opportunity for this administration to have a meaningful impact that can affect the entire nation," he said.
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