Controversial Surgeon Philanthropist Named to Federal Panel

Marcia Frellick

June 01, 2017

A controversial billionaire cancer surgeon has been named to a committee that will advise the Trump administration on health information technology (IT) policy, Politico reported Tuesday.

According to the report, US House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan chose Patrick Soon-Shiong, MD, from Los Angeles, California, who leads a network of for-profit and nonprofit ventures that conduct cancer research combining health IT with genomic testing.

Dr Soon-Shiong will join the 25-person Health Information Technology Advisory Committee established by President Barack Obama under the 21st Century Cures Act.

Dr Soon-Shiong has been the subject of reports from news outlets including Politico and STAT that have flagged potential conflicts of interest.

Dr Patrick Soon-Shiong

A Politico investigation found that most of the spending from his nonprofit research organization went to businesses and nonprofits he controlled. It also found that most of the grants from his organization went to entities that have business relationships with his nonprofits.

STAT reported in March that in 2014 Dr Soon-Shiong gave $12 million for medical research at the University of Utah, but $10 million of that came back to one of his own companies, NantHealth, which would drive the research.

Since that report, according to STAT , the CEO of the university health system and dean of the university’s medical school, Vivian Lee, MD, who had faced criticism about the deal and was involved in a separate controversy involving the director of the university’s cancer institute, resigned last month.

Additionally, according to STAT, a probe, requested by Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes (R), has begun into donations to the university.

In February, a STAT investigation into Dr Soon-Shiong's Cancer Moonshot program begun in 2016 claimed that it had substantial assertions of success but had made little progress. (The initiative was later renamed "Cancer Moonshot 2020," after a lawsuit was filed by MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and after the Obama administration launched its own "moonshot." In 2016. Medscape's Eric Topol, MD, interviewed Dr Soon-Shiong on the concept.)

As reported in Medscape Medical News, Vinay Prasad, MD, a hematologist-oncologist at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, was quoted in the STAT article as saying , "The clinical breakthroughs touted by Patrick Soon-Shiong are less than modest — they are the most minuscule and vague findings." Dr Prasad called the findings "overblown beyond what is reasonable or fair."

Dr Soon-Shiong responded to questions from Politico by defending his charitable giving, saying  that many of his donations provided no tax benefit to himself and that his nonprofits follow the law. STAT reports he has denied repeated requests for an interview.

His website includes a banner labeled "False Reporting" and points to reports "containing numerous inaccuracies." He writes that he has asked for corrections and retractions, but they have been denied.

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