Forbes Magazine named him #35 on the their 2015 list of the 400 richest people in America, estimating his net worth at $12.3 billion. He’s also been tagged the richest doctor in the world. Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong of Los Angeles is a surgeon and medical researcher, but he didn’t make his fortune removing inflamed appendixes or cancerous prostates. Dr. Soon-Shiong made his name—and most of his fortune—from his medical discoveries and treatments.
He was the first to transplant pancreas cells in the 1980s to treat diabetes, then invented the world’s first protein nanoparticle delivery technology to treat breast cancer. He performed the world’s first full pancreas transplant in 1987. He now holds over 100 patents—including one for the pancreatic cancer drug Abraxane--and has published more than 100 scientific papers.
Obviously it’s rare for a surgeon to become a billionaire, and Dr. Soon-Shiong’s life story is unusual, too. His parents fled China during World War II, moving to South Africa where Soon-Shiong was born in 1952. Labeled as “colored” during the country's apartheid era, he graduated from high school at age 16 then received a medical degree from the University of the Witwatersrand at 23. He did his internship at the all-white Johannesburg General Hospital where, because of his “coloured” status, he was paid half the salary of the white professionals on staff. From there Soon-Shiong moved to Canada and then the United States, where he has resided now for decades. The 63-year-old is a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons (Canada) and the American College of Surgeons. He’s an adjunct professor of surgery at the University of California, Los Angeles, and a visiting professor at the Imperial College of London.
Dr. Soon-Shiong is also an entrepreneur and businessman in addition to being a medical researcher, surgeon, and scientist. He's founded several pharmaceutical companies. . . and sold them for huge profits. His newest company is NantWorks, an umbrella organization that includes NantHealth--founded in 2007 to provide fiber-optic, cloud-based data infrastructure to share healthcare information—and NantOmics, to develop cancer drugs based on kinase inhibitors.
Dr. Soon-Shiong believes that the key to conquering cancer is providing doctors with the ability to share health data and genetic information in order to advance cancer research and better target treatment. “You have in the U.S. about two million new diagnoses of cancer a year, and 13 million survivors, so you have about 10,000 patients that require analysis every day,” he’s explained. “That’s about five petabytes that need to be transmitted and computed on a daily basis.”
Dr. Soon-Shiong’s many awards, board memberships, and other projects—he is a minority owner of the Los Angeles Lakers—are simply too numerous to mention.
But perhaps the most impressive thing about Dr. Soon-Shiong is his commitment to philanthropy. In 2010 he took The Giving Pledge proposed by Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, in which some of the wealthiest Americans have promised to donate the majority of their wealth to charitable causes during their lifetimes. Soon-Shiong has already given away hundreds of millions of dollars and funded numerous healthcare projects in the U.S., including a $136 million donation to St. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California. “I want to do transformational work to actually change the world,” he has said. He seems to be doing exactly that.