Union-Tribune sign on building
The San Diego Union-Tribune logo on the building at 600 B Street where the newsroom is located. Photo by Chris Jennewein

A San Diego biopharmaceutical company is accusing its business partner, biotech entrepreneur Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, who owns the Los Angeles Times and San Diego Union-Tribune, of orchestrating a “catch and kill” plan that ultimately prevented the release of a promising cancer drug, it was reported Thursday.

Sorrento Therapeutics, a publicly traded firm developing pain and cancer drugs, filed two lawsuits against Soon-Shiong as well as Soon-Shiong’s NantWorks empire on Wednesday, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.

The civil case, filed in Los Angeles County’s Superior Court, is seeking $90.05 million. The arbitration case, filed with the American Arbitration Association in Los Angeles, seeks damages in excess of $1 billion, as well as additional punitive damages, according to the Union-Tribune.

Soon-Shiong told the newspaper the suits are without merit and he denied any wrongdoing.

In the arbitration case, the biotech firm claims that Soon-Shiong purchased and then sought to kill Sorrento’s experimental drug, Cynviloq, before it could reach market, according to the Union-Tribune. The drug candidate was praised as a next-generation spin on Abraxane, the anti-cancer drug Celgene purchased in 2010 from Soon-Shiong for $2.9 billion.

The civil lawsuit claims Soon-Shiong, who invented Abraxane, later “orchestrated a secret, illegal transaction” to recoup the funds he paid for Cynviloq, the newspaper reported.

“The lawsuit is a cynical attempt to deflect from Sorrento’s own breach of contract,” Soon-Shiong said in an statement emailed to the Union- Tribune. “The allegation that we have not developed Cynviloq to protect the sales of Abraxane is false and it ignores the facts. Because it is totally without merit, we shall defend ourselves vigorously against this baseless allegation.”

In late 2014, Cynviloq was supposedly on track to be cleared by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration. It was modeled after Abraxane, with some tweaks to the drug’s design so that it could be administered to patients more efficiently and at a lower cost.

Abraxane sells for $1,378 per dose in the U.S. and has no direct competition. In South Korea, however, the price is $270 per dose because of competition from Cynviloq, which is sold there under the name Genexol-PM for $180 per dose, according to the Union-Tribune.

Soon-Shiong approached Sorrento Chief Executive Henry Ji, hoping to broker a deal between Sorrento and Celgene for the drug, according to the newspaper.

In early 2015, when it appeared the Federal Trade Commission would object to the deal, Soon-Shiong, who owns a stake in Celgene, proposed that his own company, NantPharma, acquire the drug instead, the civil suit claims.

In May 2015, NantPharma acquired Sorrento’s subsidiary, IgDraSol, Inc., which had the Cynviloq assets.

Soon-Shiong’s company paid $90 million in cash and agreed to $1.2 billion in milestone payments, some of which were contingent on FDA approvals, but the latter payments were never made, according to the Union-Tribune.

Sorrento claims that by mid-2016 Soon-Shiong hadn’t moved forward with FDA approval and let critical patents lapse, but Soon-Shiong told the newspaper that Sorrento misrepresented the drug’s status with the FDA and it failed to deliver on other research commitments.

Sorrento also claims that Soon-Shiong defrauded the biotech company in July 2017 by redirecting money from its research venture, according to the Union-Tribune.

When Cynviloq was sold in 2015, the two parties formed a $100-million cancer research venter called Immunotherapy NANTibody. The limited liability comany’s ownership and funding was split 60-40 between Soon-Shiong’s NantCell and Sorrento Therapeutics, respectively.

The civil suit alleges that Soon-Shiong and his lawyer, Charles Kim, had the joint venture pay NantPharma $90.05 million for the Cynviloq assets, without notifying NANTibody’s board of directors, the Union-Tribune reported.

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