NantWorks, Patrick Soon-Shiong’s biotech company, is using his newspapers to promote a sudden fling into COVID-19 pharmaceuticals
Race for a big-bucks cure
Newspaper advertising has fallen off, so billionaire Los Angeles physician Patrick Soon-Shiong, the owner of the Los Angeles Times and San Diego Union-Tribune, is using his papers to promote a sudden fling into COVID-19 pharmaceuticals by his biotech company NantWorks. “As a surgeon and a scientist, I’ve spent my career studying the human immune system as the body’s innate mechanism to protect itself from these threats,” says a full-page house advertisement from the doctor running in the Times and U-T. “At NantWorks, we’ve been working 24/7 since we learned of the coronavirus outbreak in January, researching the viability of our technology and the potential for a COVID-19 vaccine.”
Promotional videos by Soon-Shiong are featured by the U-T. “The videos are available now on the Union-Tribune mobile app. I urge our readers to download the app and watch the videos.”
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra balked at Patrick Soon-Shiong’s planned purchase of an L.A. hospital.
Meanwhile, a $135 million bid by the wealthy newspaper owner to buy St. Vincent Medical Center in Los Angeles out of bankruptcy to set up a coronavirus “central command” center faced early resistance from state Attorney General Xavier Becerra who feared the initial arrangement to complete the deal through Soon-Shiong’s non-profit foundation would create a conflict of interest, because another of Soon-Shiong’s web of companies was a secured creditor in the bankruptcy, according to an April 8 report by the L.A. Times. The current plan is to have Soon-Shiong personally make the purchase.
San Diego-based Sorrento Therapeutics sued Soon-Shiong this month in Los Angeles federal court, alleging that the biotech wheeler-dealer arranged in 2015 to buy a cancer drug from the Torrey Pines firm, then failed to follow through on the deal. “The lawsuit is a cynical attempt to deflect from Sorrento’s own breach of contract. The allegation that we have not developed Cynviloq to protect the sales of Abraxane is false and it ignores the facts. Because it is totally without merit, we shall defend ourselves vigorously against this baseless allegation,” Soon-Shiong told the L.A. Times. Sorrento is currently at work on a competing version of a coronavirus vaccine with Boston-based Smartpharm.
Nepotism isn’t dead
As tax shortfalls due to the COVID-19 shutdown threaten to shake up San Diego city hall’s venerable political patronage system, staffers for mayor Kevin Faulconer are coming under growing scrutiny. Among the well-connected workers in the mayor’s ranks is Byron Conrad Wear, son of former Point Loma Republican city councilman Byron Wear. The younger Wear previously worked as an aide to GOP councilwoman Lorie Zapf, who lost her seat to Democrat Jennifer Campbell in November 2018.
Mayoral staffer Byron Conrad Wear flashes that Eagle Scout smile.
An Eagle Scout, Wear got $87,022 in pay and benefits in 2018, a sizable jump over the $73,362 he received the year before, according to TransparentCalifornia.com. Six months later, on May 13, 2019, Wear signed up with Faulconer as a “policy advisor,” and he’s also the mayor’s designee to a seat on the San Diego River Conservancy board. Wear’s pay for that gig hasn’t yet been made available.
According to Wear’s most recent financial disclosure report, filed March 29, his stock holdings include between $2000 and $10,000 in the Walt Disney Company, as well as stock valued in the same range in Turtle Beach, a video game accessory maker, and Sun Communities, Inc., a real estate investment trust. Last August, San Diego port commissioners handed Sun a lucrative 66-year lease deal to develop an elaborate R.V. resort on the Chula Vista waterfront. Before the coronavirus meltdown, Sun was expected to do more development here. Disclosure records show Wear was lobbied by ex-city councilman Jim Madaffer on behalf of Sonder, Inc. to convince the city to “allow the commercial operation of short-term residential rental accommodations in multi-family buildings.”