Billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong recently joined South African President Cyril Ramaphosa to launch a new vaccine manufacturing plant in the country in a move to propel Africa towards self-sustainability in the area of vaccine production for numerous diseases, including COVID-19.
The new plant aims to reach a goal of producing 1 billion vaccines annually by 2025. In addition to producing COVID-19 vaccines, the facility will focus on developing products to fight HIV, different types of cancer, and other diseases in Africa.
The vaccine manufacturing plant is being developed by Soon-Shiong’s NantWorks LLC, a biotechnology outfit that has signed an agreement with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and the African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) that will see to the transfer of biologic manufacturing technology for COVID-19 and cancer vaccines and next-generation cell-based immunotherapies. This in turn will enable the rapid clinical development of next-generation vaccines for infectious diseases and cancer at centres of excellence across the country.
This move is particularly commendable as African countries can now have a local source to purchase vaccines rather than wait for shipments from Europe.
Our focus here, however, isn’t on the drive to establish a vaccine plant in Africa but on the man behind the initiative himself.
Who Is Patrick Soon-Shiong?
Patrick Soon-Shiong is said to be one of the wealthiest physicians on planet earth. He is a South African born South African-American transplant surgeon, medical entrepreneur, businessman, and bioscientist. He also has an interest in media publishing as he holds controlling stakes in the Los Angeles Times and San Diego Tribune which he reportedly bought for $500 million in June 2018.
Soon-Shiong was born in South Africa to Chinese immigrants and graduated from high school at age 16 and went on to become a doctor at 23.
He is known as the inventor of Abraxane, a drug known for its efficacy in the treatment of lung, breast, and pancreatic cancer. He is the founder of Nantworks, the multinational
biotechnology firm behind the vaccine plant being established in South Africa as well as a network of healthcare, biotech, and artificial intelligence startups.
How Rich Is He
According to Forbes, as of April 2021, he ranks number 89 on the list of billionaires globally with an estimated net worth of US$11.5 billion. So how exactly did he make his wealth?
How He Made His Wealth
Soon-Shiong’s wealth largely comes from the proceeds of the sales of his pharmaceutical companies. He has been able to turn his medical inventions and ingenuity into money-making machines, some of which he has sold for billions of dollars while others continue to provide critical health solutions to millions of patients across the world and in turn, turning his medical outfits into multi-billion dollar worth companies. He is noted to have sold two of his drug companies, Abraxis in 2010 and American Pharmaceutical Partners in 2008 for a combined worth of $9.1 billion. He also has a stake in ImmunityBio, which was selected for the US government’s ‘’Operation Warp Speed’’ programme back in May 2020 to help develop a Covid-19 vaccine.
His wealth through patented vaccines has not come without controversies. He has been accused of acquiring a potential rival of his winning drug and preventing it from ever getting to the market, all in a bid to stave off competition.
Back in 2015, NantPharma, a subsidiary of his companies acquired the rights to the cancer drug known as Cynviloq from Sorrento Therapeutics with a $90 million up-front payment and an agreement to pay an additional $1.2 billion should certain regulatory milestones be achieved. If this had been successful, Cynvilog would have played a dominant opposition to Soon-Shiong’s cancer drug Abraxane. And this would have potentially rocked Soon-Shiong’s revenue badly.
Also, in 2017, two former employees of NantHealth filed a lawsuit against the company as they claimed the company ignored their warnings “of the potential harm their products were exposing their patients to.”
Spearheading Vaccine Production in Africa
With the launch of the vaccine manufacturing plant following the commitment of $200 million by Soon-Shiong’s NantWorks LLC, the billionaire medical entrepreneur is well on his way to increasing his value.
According to him, it had been his dream to bring state-of-the-art, 21st Century medical care to South Africa and to enable the country to serve as a scientific hub for the continent. With the plant, he’s making that dream come to reality.
“There is such an unmet need to treat life-threatening infectious diseases such as AIDS, TB, and now COVID-19. Of equal concern is the poor survival rate of patients suffering from cancer in South Africa and elsewhere in Africa. The astounding advances in science have enabled new paradigms of care involving activating the immune system and changing outcomes for these diseases.
“We are privileged to have the opportunity to bring 30 years of clinical, scientific, and advanced biological know-how to the country and establish much-needed capacity and self-sufficiency,” he said during the launch.
While the effort will be impacting medical delivery within Africa and the containment of deadly viruses like COVID-19, cancer, and others, it certainly is also expanding the fortunes of the billionaire businessman.