dr patrick soon-shiong

Dr Patrick Soon-Shiong: LA Times owner pledges R3bn to SA vaccine production

Andile Sicetsha - 13.05.2021

Dr Patrick Soon-Shiong, owner of the LA Times and a billionaire from Port Elizabeth, is throwing billions into South Africa’s vaccine production ambitions.

At a time when South Africa needed assistance with its snail-paced COVID-19 vaccine rollout, Dr Patrick Soon-Shiong was there to lend a much-needed hand.

Dr Patrick Soon-Shiong pledges billions to SA vaccine rollout

The biotech billionaire and owner of the Los Angeles (LA) Times revealed, during an address at the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) international meeting on the equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, that he and his Family Foundation would be transferring more than R3-billion ($210 million) to aid South Africa in its ambition to produce its own vaccines.

This way, he said, South Africa would have the means to produce a second generation of vaccines that may have stronger efficacy levels against the various COVID-19 mutations spreading in the country.

“Our goal and our commitment is to come back to South Africa and transfer this kind of technology. Not only do we have the science, we have the human capital and the capacity and the desire,” he said.

While the details around this ambitious project are unclear, the gist of it is that Dr Soon-Shiong’s aim is to equip South Africa, his home country, with the technology and skills to develop vaccines and other therapies using viral vectors, messenger RNA and adjuvants.

Already, the billionaire is working on an experimental vaccine with South African pharmaceutical giant Biovac. The partnership between Biovac and Soon-Shiong’s ImmunityBio was announced earlier this year and currently, clinical trials on their adenovirus vector-based vaccine are underway in South Africa and the United States.

Soon-Shiong’s connection to South Africa

Why is South Africa getting all this much-needed aid from a US-based billionaire? Well, the short answer is, Dr Soon-Shiong is performing his duties as a highly resourceful South African citizen.

Soon-Shiong is many things: a transplant surgeon, billionaire businessman, bioscientist, and media proprietor. However, first and foremost, he is South African.

The 68-year-old was born in Port Elizabeth on 29 July 1952. His parents were Chinese immigrants who fled from their home country during the second Sino-Japanese War.

Soon-Shiong graduated from the University of Witwatersrand with a bachelor’s degree in medicine (MBBCh) and went on to complete his internship at Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital at the age of 23.

The 68-year-old left South Africa in the late 1970s to further his studies and today, he is set to return with a long-lasting solution to the country’s efforts to stop the spread of a deadly pathogen.