Biotech billionaire Soon-Shiong strikes $50M deal for control of cancer vaccines

Patrick Soon-Shiong

Patrick Soon-Shiong's deal spree isn't over yet. The biotech billionaire's umbrella organization NantWorks has nabbed a majority interest in another cancer drug developer, this time paying $50 million for control of Dallas-based Precision Biologics.

Like some of Soon-Shiong's other deals, he is pouring part of his fortune into another obscure biotech far off the industry's beaten track. Precision Biologics has been developing a pipeline of therapeutic cancer vaccines, using immunized mice to identify three antibodies that can zero in on tumor cells.

The idea at the company is to use its specially designed antibodies to kick up a tumor-specific immune response, fitting into a broad strategy of developing new immunotherapeutics for cancer.

Details are sketchy, but Precision Biologics reported on its web site earlier this year that a small study of their lead drug--NPC-1C (ensituximab)--involving 30 patients with metastatic colorectal cancer has delivered data pointing to an average overall survival rate of 10.4 months, which they compared favorably with current standards of care. And there's a Phase IIb trial underway for pancreatic cancer that involves some prestigious academic centers around the U.S.

The biotech--founded in 2012--has also applied its technology to companion diagnostics that can be used to identify patients most likely to respond to treatment.

Over the past year Soon-Shiong has been spending, and raising, hundreds of millions of dollars to execute a long string of deals. One group in his network recently completed its second acquisition of cancer assets from Amgen ($AMGN). He also executed a record $2.6 billion IPO for NantKwest ($NK), the newly renamed Conkwest, which he had acquired after the company had burned through only $60 million on R&D.

Like others in the oncology field, Soon-Shiong has been able to tap into considerable market enthusiasm for immuno-oncology, adding in some extra luster as the man who made a fortune from the sale of Abraxane to Celgene ($CELG), which has remained a reliable backer. But the current debate over drug pricing has blasted NantKwest's shares, like many others. The biotech's market cap has been driven down to $1.07 billion.

"The mission at NantWorks is the pursuit of neo-epitope driven immunotherapy for cancer," says Soon-Shiong in a statement. "This investment furthers our mission to treat the biology of cancer, independent of the anatomy, and avoid the devastating toxic effects of standard chemotherapy while activating mankind's innate immune protective system. With a highly experienced management and scientific team, the company will complement NantWorks' approach to this paradigm shift in the molecular interrogation and treatment of cancer."

- here's the release