Biotech billionaire Soon-Shiong steps down from ONC health IT advisory committee

Patrick Soon-Shiong
Biotech billionaire Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong has bold ambitions to create a cancer vaccine. (NantKwest)

Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, the biotech billionaire and CEO of health technology company NantWorks, Wednesday said that he is stepping down from the federal Health IT Advisory Committee (HITAC), a group that provides policy recommendations to the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT.

Soon-Shiong said during Wednesday's HITAC meeting that his time was devoted to his work at Nant to develop a cancer vaccine and running the Los Angeles Times, which he bought in early 2018. Nant is one of the many companies under the umbrella of NantWorks.

"It was really very difficult for me to attend the many meetings and I just felt very guilty that I was not contributing as much as I could and I thought this slot could be used better by somebody who had more time," he said.

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"It’s not that the work that you do is unimportant; it’s critically important to the nation," Soon-Shiong told the HITAC members during the meeting, specifically noting the advisory committee's work to advance interoperability in healthcare.

National Coordinator Donald Rucker, M.D., thanked Soon-Shiong for "throwing his hat in the ring" to support the HITAC and noted that his lack of time for the meetings was understandable given his "hands are full with running the L.A. Times and finding a cure for cancer."

Soon-Shiong also said his company's work in cancer therapies was "bearing fruit," and he plans to announce research detailing an approach to "induce immunogenic cell death in patients with cancer" in the next few months. "Over the course of the last two years, we have received authorization from the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) on 20 INDs (Investigational New Drug applications)," he said.

Soon-Shiong said the company will have "exciting data" to share in the next few months regarding cancer therapeutics for "triple negative breast cancer, bladder cancer, and neck and head cancer," he said.

RELATED: Billionaire Soon-Shiong's Verity Health system declares bankruptcy

Former House Speaker Paul Ryan appointed Soon-Shiong to the 25-member HITAC committee in May 2017. 

The physician-entrepreneur, whose holdings include health technology firms and foundations, is a controversial figure in the biotechnology world. He has been the subject of several media investigations as critics have questioned the effectiveness of his cancer therapies and his plan to cure cancer by 2020. Vinay Prasad, M.D., a hematologist-oncologist at Oregon Health and Science University, told Stat in 2017 that Soon-Shiong’s cancer breakthroughs are “the most minuscule and vague findings.”

There also has been scrutiny about conflicts of interest. A Politico report found that most of the money in Soon-Shiong’s research foundation funnels to other businesses that he owns, prompting an investigation by Utah’s legislative watchdog regarding donations to the University of Utah.

Soon-Shiong has vigorously denied the reports.

A health system that he owned, Verity Health, based in El Segundo, California, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in September 2018. At the time, Politico reported that Soon-Shiong took the controlling stake in the indebted six hospitals just more than a year prior and invested heavily in technology "that advanced his for-profit interests" while cutting back on charity care and investments in more basic infrastructure updates such as earthquake preparedness.

RELATED: Soon-Shiong planning to take cancer vaccine subsidiary public: report

He also faces legal disputes over cancer drugs. San Diego biotech Sorrento Therapeutics filed a $1 billion lawsuit alleging Soon-Shiong and his NantPharma bought Sorrento's late-phase cancer drug, Cynviloq, to hamstring its development and prevent it from reaching the market in which it would compete with Abraxane, a drug Soon-Shiong invented and sold to Celgene back in 2010.  

During the J.P. Morgan Healthcare conference in San Francisco back in January, Forbes reported that Soon-Shiong laid out what the cancer-focused biotech has been working on. The work that’s now part of NantCell has taken a decade, Soon-Shiong said, and he described it as forming the middle ground between his NantHealth, which sells a product called CancerGPS that identifies potential treatment targets of a patient’s cancer, and NantKwest, a cell therapy company, Forbes reported.

His overall goal is to create a "chemotherapy-free cancer memory vaccine," Forbes reported