Who is Patrick Soon-Shiong? An LA billionaire with big ideas — and mixed achievements

James Rufus Koren, Thomas Curwen And Melody Petersen, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

Soon-Shiong bought into The Times' parent company in 2016 amid a hostile takeover bid by rival publisher Gannett. His investment of $70.5 million helped fight off Gannett and seemed to make allies of Soon-Shiong and Tronc Chairman Michael Ferro, but their relationship quickly soured.

Owning the city's largest media company would add to a business portfolio that includes a network of medical research firms that he established to, in his words, "solve cancer" -- the latest ambitious goal for the physician turned entrepreneur.

Soon-Shiong was born in 1952 in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. His parents had left China during World War II. His father was an herbal doctor.

Soon-Shiong received his medical degree at the University of Witwatersrand, where in the late 1970s he treated South Africans who had been injured during the Soweto riots.

He interned at Johannesburg's General Hospital, which had never admitted a Chinese student before, Soon-Shiong has said. The chairman of the department stipulated that his application would not be accepted unless he finished better than fourth in his class, which he did. He worked in the cancer wing, where he remembers an Afrikaner patient who refused to be treated by a "Chinaman."

At a time when other colleagues were leaving South Africa, he accepted a surgical residency with the University of British Columbia. In Canada, he met Chan, who worked at the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. The couple immigrated to the United States and Chan, an aspiring actress, was cast on "Danger Bay" and "MacGyver."

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He joined UCLA Medical School in 1983 as an assistant professor in the gastrointestinal surgery division. He later became director of UCLA's pancreas transplant program.

After developing a method for treating diabetes by transplanting insulin-producing cells into a patient's pancreas, Soon-Shiong left UCLA and founded his own medical research firm in 1991.

By the late 1990s, he was broadening his research into other cancer treatments, developing drugs to fight not just diabetes but also breast cancer. One of those drugs would become the foundation of his fortune. Called Abraxane, it was a redesigned version of a top-selling cancer drug called Taxol. He sold the company that developed Abraxane to Celgene for $2.9 billion in 2010.

Soon-Shiong also built and sold another pharmaceutical company, generic drugmaker APP Pharmaceuticals, which was acquired by German company Fresenius for an estimated $4.6 billion.


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