A South African-born American biotech entrepreneur and investor wants to make the country the Singapore of Africa in the health and pharmaceutical space.
The biotech entrepreneur believes the possibilities are endless.
Hailing from Gqeberha in the Eastern Cape, the Californian-based Dr Patrick Soon-Shiong this week announced a R3 billion investment towards catalyzing South African technological know-how as it relates to vaccine development for COVID-19 and beyond.
The bio-scientist says the current intellectual property waiver negotiations at the World Trade Organisation are not the key step to resolving vaccine inequity in the world despite the political capital being invested in it.
He has devoted his life to the cross-section between healthcare and innovation – work that has made him a multi-billionaire as he looks to bring that knowledge back home.
“If we could make South Africa the Singapore of Africa in the world of healthcare and pharmaceuticals and catalyze that, then this R3 billion initial commitment could be the start of something realty impactful,” he adds.
Below is the full interview:
He has been talking to everyone from President Cyril Ramaphosa and various ministers to the scientific community and Universities as he seeks to build a public good organisation in South Africa with the main aim to bolster the country’s pharmaceutical prowess through technology transfer.
“That technology of artificial intelligence, machine learning, automation, robotics, at the biological level of manufacturing next generation of pharmaceutical products for the treatment of cancer and infectious diseases is here. And now so I’ve had the fortunate resources given to me almost as a gift to do this and I think this is our mission now, to take this, this amazing knowledge – that is not our knowledge but the knowledge of the world of genomics and AI and bring it to the country,” he explains.
Dr Soon-Shiong says the current intellectual property waiver negotiations at the World Trade Organisation are not the key step to resolving vaccine inequity in the world despite the political capital being invested in it.
“Let’s say you waive the patents, that’s great, now what do you do with a piece of paper when there’s no know-how, no knowledge, no technology, no transfer, no ability to scale. So what we don’t want to do is to lose sight of what the real goal is. The real goal is to create self-sufficiency and capacity – if that means part of that is a patent waiver but it’s probably not necessary.
“The vaccinology of today, of yesteryear is so old, that many people can do that independent of IP. What we need to do is look to the future and actually create what I said are next-generation vaccines. So my fear is that you get caught up in this political discussion and you lose your way.”
He agreed that COVID-19 has exposed healthcare inequities everywhere and that South Africa can position itself as a second-generation vaccine provider for COVID and beyond.