The billion-dollar hope of Dr. Soon-Shiong

Patrick Soon-Shiong wants to create the Bell Labs of health care and is putting $1 billion of his fortune into the effort.

Patrick Soon-Shiong, the South African-born, Chinese heritage, California-based billionaire who founded American Pharmaceutical Partners (APP) (and is now executive chairman of Abraxis Bioscience) has the bio for a great Bond villain.

But he is, by all accounts, a very good guy, and now has a very big dream.

As he told Forbes recently, he wants to create "the Bell Labs of health care" and is putting $1 billion of his estimated $3 billion fortune into the effort.

He described to the magazine the construction of a "health grid" that would empower both patients and providers, combining health records with genetic records and research so you could know, for instance, whether the cheap or expensive cure is really right for you.

Trouble is the network he is describing sounds a lot like the National Health information Network, now being developed with open source software. The government has just put $1.2 billion into pursuing Dr. Soon-Shiong's dream through what I have dubbed the Medi-Net.

Beyond that, what's a Bell Labs?

The original Bell Labs, in Holmdel, New Jersey, was the research arm of AT&T back when AT&T was "the phone company" and Lily Tomlin was torturing "Mr. Vidal" with its power. It is no more, and the building itself, designed by Eero Saarinen, is under threat.

Is he talking about a group that will do bleeding edge, long pay-out research on important medical topics? Dr. Soon-Shiong already runs two such projects. He chairs the life sciences prize group steering committee for the X Prize Foundation, and he's the new executive director for the UCLA Wireless Health Institute.

That group is already working on things like "smart canes" that will be filled with electronics to take medical tests transparently and measure compliance with drug regimens. Pretty cutting edge stuff.

If Dr. Soon-Shiong is thinking about getting cutting edge cost-effective new technology into the hands of millions, meanwhile, that work is being done by the Path Foundation, which is using $1.3 billion from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to great effect.

What's a billionaire to do?

Perhaps the best hint of what is to come lies in an interview Dr. Soon-Shiong gave MobiHealth News recently:

“We need to take advantage of the interfacing of some of these very exciting next generation technologies. Those include microfluidics, nanofluidics… as well as wireless technologies.”

Sounds cool, but I have no idea what he's talking about. And maybe that's the point.

So much is going on in health care, and health research, right now that getting your head around even a 10-year time horizon leads you to unfathomable destinations. The billion-dollar hope of Dr. Soon-Shiong is that when we get there, he will be waiting for us.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com