Soon-Shiong debuts AI, cloud platform, says FDA gives nod to cancer vaccine (UPDATED)
ORLANDO - Billionaire biotech mogul Patrick Soon-Shiong on Monday said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has given his company the green light to advance his cancer vaccine into later stages of clinical trials.
“It may be a strange place to announce this,” he said at the Intelligent Health Pavilion during HIMSS17, “but I was building a cancer company and I happened to build a technology company.”
While the FDA decision was newsworthy, Soon-Shiong said he really came to HIMSS to unveil Nant AI, an augmented intelligence platform that, with the backing of a fiber optic infrastructure, can process genome activity of cancer tumors at high speed. He said it took 10 years to lay the fiber for that project.
Another component he unveiled Monday was Nant Cloud, a cloud server which can generate bioinformatic data at 26 seconds per patient.
According to Soon-Shiong, Nant AI and Nant Cloud were the last components he needed to fulfill his promise to quickly develop a cancer vaccine. Those will work in concert with biotech firm Nant Health, the company he chairs.
As a recurring theme, Soon-Shiong repeatedly referenced an idea that cancer cells “speak,” so a lynchpin of their theory is that if you understand what the genome data of cancer cells are saying, you can defeat them.
“Nant AI is a very complex machine learning systems at the proteinic level,” he said. “Now we can predictively model what the tumor is saying.”
Soon-Shiong visited HIMSS17 as questions surround him. On the political side, Soon-Shiong reportedly met with President Donald Trump in the days between his election victory and inauguration to discuss a possible role within the administration.
But perhaps the biggest controversy surrounding Soon-Shiong came after a Stat report last week suggested Soon-Shiong's cancer program has not made any clear and tested scientific advances but rather is acting more like a publicity tool for the mogul.
But Soon-Shiong said his company has published plenty of evidence in research publications to support their claims and during the presentation played several video testimonials from patients whose cancer was allegedly knocked into remission by these trials.
A spokeswoman for the FDA said the agency could not comment on any investigational new drug applications, which companies file to begin or advance clinical trials. However, she did say it is very rare that a clinical trial is put on hold or stopped by the agency. Instead, the FDA often provides comments intended to improve the quality of the trial, she said.
Soon-Shiong, whose nearly $9 billion net worth has earned him the moniker of America’s Richest Doctor, is a former surgeon who made his fortune on the two pharmaceutical companies he founded, Abraxis and American Pharmaceutical Partners, and later sold for more than $8 billion. That fortune has largely funded this cancer work.
As for the vaccine, which Soon-Shiong dubbed the Nant Cancer Vaccine, it is not a typical injection. The treatment is a 14-day cycle of vaccines or transfusions meant to attack the cancer cells. The cocktail includes a protein that “feeds” the tumor. Then an antigen designed to attack what is driving the tumor is put into a common cold virus and introduced. Next, engineered natural killer cells are given as a blood transfusion before another final drug is given to activate the body’s own cancer-fighting T cells.
Soon-Shiong, who claimed he is not discouraged by “disparaging remarks,” said his companies have spent the last 10 years testing each element of that process.
But Soon-Shiong made clear that the technology behind it, especially the new Nant AI and Nant Cloud platforms, were key since they have already been used to process the genome data from thousands of cancer patients to better understand the disease on the deepest levels.
“Cancer is not only a war against time, but it’s also an information war, which means we really needed to gather and harness information in order to stop this dreaded disease.”
This story was updated to include comments from the FDA.
This article is part of our ongoing coverage of HIMSS17. Visit Destination HIMSS17 for previews, reporting live from the show floor and after the conference.