- Getty Images/Kevork Djansezian
Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, the oncologist known as the world’s richest doctor, has spent the last decade quietly plotting a big change in the way cancer is treated. It all came together this week. On Thursday, shares of his biotech company NantHealth began trading after its initial public offering. They ended the day up 33%, giving the company a market value of more than $2.2 billion. Then on Friday, NantHealth’s cancer test became commercially available. The test can examine more than 20,000 genes – looking at the tumor’s specific genome as well as the patient’s entire genome – to help doctors take a more individualized approach to cancer treatment.
The test, called the GPS (short for “genomic proteomic spectrometry”) Cancer test, looks for protein biomarkers, which can give clues as to whether a person is resistant to a certain kind of cancer treatment, especially if it’s the one that that patient would typically start on. NantHealth has spent the last decade building an operating system that involves supercomputing to help oncologists decide how to use the information they gather.
“It frankly puts to bed the need for all other single tests,” Soon-Shiong said in an interview with Business Insider.
As use of NantHealth’s cancer test picks up, Soon-Shiong said the plan is to see how things shift so that it’s possible, at a reasonable cost, to make cancer treatment less of a guessing game by using much more quantitative information. Ideally, Soon-Shiong wants that to lead to personalized therapeutics that are tailored to a patient’s exact cancer, making that person the “n of 1” in a trial with the intent to get the job done.
The IPO, launch of the GPS Cancer test, and other endeavors, Soon-Shiong said, are all part of a convergence as NantHealth starts to ramp up. Soon-Shiong said the company has been quietly working for 10 years to get to this point.
Soon-Shiong, whose current net worth is $12 billion, according to Forbes, got his start as a physician and surgeon before going on to invent the blockbuster pancreatic cancer drug Abraxane.
In addition to NantHealth, he’s also the CEO of immunotherapy company NantKwest, as well as eight other companies that are subsidiaries of the larger NantWorks company. Soon-Shiong is also the second-largest stakeholder in the Tribune Holdings Company (now rebranded as tronc), and he recently kicked off Cancer Moonshot 2020, a coalition of drug companies aimed at speeding up research on new cancer treatments that harness the immune system to fight the disease.