LOS ANGELES – The man buying the Los Angeles Times is a 65-year-old physician-entrepreneur described by Forbes Magazine as “America’s richest doctor,” and one who has said his goal is to cure cancer in his lifetime.
Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong also is a basketball fanatic who shoots hoops on a hardwood court inside his multimillion-dollar mansion and who owns a minority interest in the Los Angeles Lakers that he bought from none other than Magic Johnson, the team’s legendary president of basketball operations.
Soon-Shiong also owns a 26 percent stake in the Times’ parent company, Tronc, which makes him one of its largest shareholders.
It was his fight against cancer that put the doctor on the road to amassing the $500 million needed to purchase the Times and its sister paper, the San Diego Union-Tribune. Forbes estimates his worth at $7.8 billion.
In 1991 he created the cancer-fighting drug Abraxane and, rather than seek venture-capital money to promote it, borrowed cash and bought the company American Pharmaceutical Partners to market it.
After the FDA approved Abraxane in 2005 he sold American Pharmaceutical Partners and another of his businesses, Abraxis Bioscience Inc., for $9.1 billion. These days he controls a network of health-company startups called Nantworks as he continues his search for a cancer cure.
“I am driven to solve cancer in my lifetime,” he told the Times last year. “Despite the naysayers, skeptics, and doubters, we are making incredible progress.”
His interest in his hometown paper surfaced publicly about 18 months ago when he bought 13 percent stake in Tronc for $70.5 million as the newspaper’s parent was fending off a takeover bid from rival media company Gannett Inc.
He soon increased that ownership stake to 26 percent and began feuding publicly with Tronc Chairman Michael Ferro over the newspaper’s direction.
In an interview with the Times last year, Soon-Shiong declined to say whether he planned to buy the paper but he made clear his unhappiness with Tronc’s management.
“I am concerned there are other agendas, independent of the newspaper’s needs or the fiduciary obligations to the viability of the organization,” he said. “My goal is to try and preserve the integrity and the viability of the newspaper.”
Born in South Africa to parents who fled China during World War II, Soon-Shiong has said he learned the value of a free press growing up in a country that during his youth still practiced apartheid, or racial separation, that denied rights to non-whites.
“In South Africa being Chinese meant I wasn’t white and I wasn’t black,” he told Los Angeles Magazine in 2013. He added that he trained at a black hospital and later worked in black townships where medical facilities were insufficient and he wasn’t sure if the drugs he administered to children with tuberculosis were really doing any good.
“That’s when I had the vision of what I wanted to do: leave South Africa and identify the technologies that would allow me to treat these kids as if they were at the Mayo Clinic,” he said.
He arrived in Los Angeles in the 1970s to begin a surgical residency at UCLA, where he became assistant professor of gastro-intestinal medicine and head of the school’s pancreas-transplant program.
Soon after his arrival he also developed a deep devotion to the Lakers.
“I’ve been going to games since 1980,” he told ESPN soon after buying his stake in the team in 2011. “This is when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was the captain and Magic Johnson just joined the team and Michael Cooper was there and later James Worthy. Those were the days.”
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