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34

Lab Times

1-2015

Biobusiness

Fierce Accusations

World’s richest doctor: “fraudulent activities”?

-wk-

Patrick Soon-Shiong is referred to as “the richest doctor who ever

lived” by

Forbes Magazine

. That might be correct, given his reput-

ed fortune of €11.6 billion. Born 62 years ago in South Africa to

Chinese immigrant parents, Soon-Shiong became a doctor at the

age of 23, performed revolutionary human islet transplantations

in diabetes patients at the age of 41, invented protein nanoparti-

cle delivery technologies for cancer treatment, issued 50 patents,

published 100 scientific papers and founded two pharmaceutical

companies that formed the basis for his wealth. In 2009, it was

reported that Soon-Shiong had returned to his

alma mater

, the

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), to work as a profes-

sor of microbiology, immunology, molecular genetics, and bioen-

gineering (although your

Lab Times

reporter is sceptical that “the

wealthiest person in Los Angeles”, according to the

LA Business

Journal

, really spends time worth mentioning at UCLA).

The same magazine that reports annually on his wealth,

Forbes

, now tells us that doctor Soon-Shiong is accused of in-

volvement in “fraudulent activities”. Two former executives of one

of Soon-Shiong’s companies, NantHealth, claim that the com-

pany, “has repeatedly violated federal regulations, endangered

patient privacy and misled the public about what its technology

can do” (according to

Forbes

). NantHealth is a healthcare IT firm

that offers a cloud-based clinical operating system, which pools

vital signs and patient data from numerous hospital devices, thus

providing a real-time supply of medical information. Combining

cloud computing, genomic analysis

and targeted drug development will,

according to Soon-Shiong, result in

faster diagnoses and better outcomes for cancer patients.

Combining a patient’s hospital data with genetic informa-

tion – a Brave New Big Data World if it works, isn’t it? But the two

ex-employees actually hired to prepare NantHealth’s IPO, “discov-

ered that [the company’s executives] were engaged in a multitude

of fraudulent activities, which would, if known to investment bank-

ers, customers and the public... substantially devalue the com-

pany’s stock and likely cause the end of the IPO.” They claim that

NantHealth’s technology is of bad quality, more expensive than

competitors’ products and, even worse, was violating FDA regula-

tions, according to a lawsuit they filed against NantHealth (

http://

de.scribd.com/doc/252711149/NantHealth-lawsuit

). Both

allege that they were dismissed after disclosing these issues to

NantHealth’s management and are suing for damages, based on

a Florida law designed to protect whistleblowers from being fired.

NantHealth’s COO, Steve Curd, told

Forbes

that all allegations

were “false”. Both were sacked because of their “improper behav-

ior” and had then threatened to “launch a smear campaign” if they

didn’t get hush money (they supposedly demanded $2 million).

While “Soon-Shiong’s Big Data venture” (

FierceBiotech

) has now at-

tracted more than €100 million in investment, the case raises seri-

ous doubts that their planned IPO will proceed as scheduled.

Photo: Albert Londe

-wk-

Belgium: €430 million Parkinson’s deal

No More Tremors?

Is there hope for those seven (or ten) million

globally who suffer fromParkinson’s disease

(PD)? After UCB, the Brussels drugmaker,

bagged a collaboration deal with Neuropore

(headquartered in San Diego), at least one

thing is clear: Again, a lot of money has been

raised to tackle the roots of PD. While cur-

rent therapies aim to manage the early mo-

tor symptoms of the disease (and fail as the

disease progresses), the partners’ strategy is

to stabilise conformations of

α

-synuclein, the

brain protein whose misfolding is related to

the disease, by using NPT200-11. This exper-

imental drug that, “addresses a fundamen-

tal pathological mechanism” and thus medi-

cates PD “at the roots”, is an orally bioavaila-

ble small molecule that blocks the patholog-

ical proteinmisfolding and aggregation that

contribute to synaptic dysfunction and cell

death in PD. However, NPT200-11 has only

proved beneficial in animal models so far. So

it must first prove itself in human patients.

For junior partner Neuropore, the con-

tract is unquestionably a jackpot. UCB’s

€430 million has ensured their survival for

years ahead. Later this year, both will start

phase I trials with NPT200-11.

Belgium, Sweden: Successful financings

Planning Implants

Relief in Flanders: Belgium’s FEops, a sup-

plier of 3D simulation tools for cardiovas-

cular interventions, has secured a €1.3 mil-

lion financing round. The money will, “sup-

port the launch of FEops’ first product, TAVI-

guide, in Europe and the US”. TAVIguide is a

cloud -based pre-operative planning service

for transcatheter aortic valve implantation

(TAVI) that aims to reduce time (“days in-

stead of months”) as well as cost. In Europe,

the implantation of coronary stents used to

reopen narrowed blood vessels has risen to

800,000 every year. When designing such

tiny implants, cardiovascular surgeons still

have to proceed in a clumsy process of tri-

al and error. FEops’ pre-operative planning

technique has the potential to replace more

oldfashioned procedures, by combining pre-

operative CT imaging with advanced com-

puter simulations, according to company of-

ficials. If that works, both patients as well as

health insurance companies will benefit. The

company was founded in 2009 as a spin-off

by scientists from the University of Ghent.

Swedish-American biotech Cortendo,

was also successful in getting private fund-

ing. The Gothenburg-based company raised

€24 million, dedicated to pushing their rare

disease drug candidate, COR-003, further

through late-stage trials. Just a fewmonths

ago, in October 2014, Cortendo had raised

an initial €10 million to launch their phase

III project. COR-003 is a “safer and bet-

ter targeted” version of the generic keto-

conazole, which medicates Cushing’s syn-

drome, a potentially lethal orphan endo-

crine disorder that is characterised by an

overproduction of cortisol.

-wk-

Patrick

Soon-Shiong

Photo: Nanthealth

A man with Parkinson’s

disease displaying

a flexed walking

posture.