CAPE TOWN - BILLIONAIRES have been under fire for profiting during a pandemic and one, Bill Gates, for saying and having too much influence even though he is not a medical professional.
One South African-born billionaire has also emerged as a powerful force behind vaccines. The only difference is that he is a medical doctor with significant investments in the medical research space.
Patrick Soon-Shiong, a billionaire doctor and scientist who was born in Port Elizabeth and graduated from the University of the Witwatersrand, is now the owner of leading immunotherapy and cell therapy company, ImmunityBio and NantKwest.
His company has designed a vaccine that seeks to protect people from infection caused by variants of the coronavirus, now and in the future.
Researchers in Cape Town are starting clinical trials of the vaccine. It is believed that it targets both a protein known as a nucleocapsid, which coronaviruses use to infect their host, and the so-called spike protein zeroed in on by vaccines authorised for use already.
The trial, which began in the US in October, is the first in South Africa of a Covid-19 vaccine engineered to attack both proteins. It comes as makers of Covid-19 vaccines such as Pfizer and BioNTech and Moderna say they plan to update their shots to boost protection against variants.
ImmunityBio and NantKwest, which in December agreed to merge, were both founded by Soon-Shiong, who also owns The Los Angeles Times and is a part-owner of the Los Angeles Lakers of the NBA. Since the start of the pandemic, Soon-Shiong has taken to YouTube to explain the science behind the coronavirus.
The company has indicated that ImmunityBio vaccine can be stored in a standard refrigerator and that it is also testing versions of its vaccine that could be taken by mouth and stored at room temperature, features that would make the vaccine easier to administer.
The trial in Cape Town will test delivery of the vaccine via two injections administered 21 days apart; findings from both the US and South African legs of the trial will inform methods of administering the vaccine that ImmunityBio says it plans to study in phases to come.