Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong has already struck a blow against cancer, inventing a drug to fight the disease that's helped to make him the richest man in Los Angeles. Now the surgeon and entrepreneur is using nearly a billion dollars of his fortune to go full throttle into an unconventional method of fighting cancer that he hopes will make it a chronic, treatable disease instead of a death sentence. Dr. Sanjay Gupta reports on Soon-Shiong and his cancer research for a 60 Minutes story to be broadcast on Sunday, Dec. 7.
Most cancer treatment is governed by the location of the tumor; some drugs are for breast cancer, others work better against lung cancer, for example. Soon-Shiong has built an infrastructure to enable his researchers to map the entire genome of individual tumors, a process that once could have taken months but with new supercomputers can be done in a day. The idea is to learn as much about a tumor's mutations so the bad mutations can be identified. It's thought that by classifying the cancer by its mutations, each bad mutation can be seen as a separate disease to treat individually with specifically designed drugs.
"Imagine reclassifying cancer...and understand that cancer's a slew of rare diseases," says Soon-Shiong. "It's going to mean you have a better shot at having a better outcome and having a quality of life and actually turn the cancer, hopefully, into a chronic disease," he tells Gupta.
Soon-Shiong says his method is ready to be used in the mainstream now, but some oncologists, who despite seeing the merit in the technique, don't think it's entirely proven.
One of them is Dr. Derek Raghavan, president of the Levine Cancer Institute in Charlotte, North Carolina. "Yes, that's a fair theory...I don't think we're there now...I don't think we'll be there next year," he says. "I think that's there's just too much hard, complex science that has to be done before this is state of the art. But it's a very cool idea for the future."