Soon-Shiong raises $75M for another oncology player in his murky empire

Patrick Soon-Shiong

It seems not a month goes by without billionaire entrepreneur Patrick Soon-Shiong striking a deal to expand his sprawling family of cancer-focused startups. This time, the recently launched NantCell has raised $75 million in equity, pressing forward in immuno-oncology with some in-licensed treatments.

NantCell, unveiled in January, is an offshoot of Soon-Shiong's NantWorks conglomerate, developing treatments that use the body's natural defenses to fight cancer. The company got started by paying an undisclosed sum to get its hands on Amgen's ($AMGN) ganitumab, a once-failed antibody treatment the biotech believes it can resurrect. In March, the biotech further fleshed out its pipeline by trading $110 million in cash and equity for the rights to some immunotherapies from Sorrento Therapeutics ($SRNE).

Just what NantCell plans to do with its new cash remains to be seen. The company didn't respond to a request for comment Wednesday, and NantWorks has made no official announcement of the fundraise, filing only the requisite forms with the SEC.

The round follows a particularly busy stretch at Soon-Shiong's southern California empire. Last month, NantWorks paid $90 million up front and promised up to $1.2 billion more for Sorrento's next-generation version of the Celgene ($CELG) blockbuster Abraxane, launching yet another subsidiary, NantPharma, to follow through on the deal. Days before, the Celgene-partnered NantBioScience closed a $100 million equity round to fund its work on nanoparticle-based treatments for cancer.

The new companies add more tenants to Soon-Shiong's crowded house of biotech ventures, sitting alongside NantiBody, a joint venture with Sorrento focused on developing checkpoint inhibitors; and NantOmics, a molecular diagnostics outfit. Soon-Shiong has long said the underlying goal of his expansive startup farm is to unite cloud computing, genomic analysis and targeted drug development to create an end-to-end oncology system that can eventually manage a patient's cancer much like the industry currently handles chronic disease.

Underpinning the NantWorks vision is NantHealth, which Soon-Shiong calls "the Google of genome mapping." But a pair of former employees have alleged that Soon-Shiong's business is founded more on savvy marketing than actual innovation, claiming in a lawsuit that NantHealth has repeatedly violated federal regulations, endangered patient privacy and misled the public about what its technology can do. For its part, the company has said the lawsuit is "baseless" and "filled with inaccuracies and false statements," dismissing the plaintiffs as disgruntled ex-employees out to smear NantHealth.

- read the filing

Special Report: The 25 most influential people in biopharma in 2015 - ​Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong - NantWorks