South African-born mogul Patrick Soon-Shiong backs potential COVID-19 universal vaccine booster

Biotech founded by the billionaire believes its candidate could be universal booster as pandemic continues.

The biotech billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong founded and currently owns a 13% equity stake in ImmunityBio, which is developing a vaccine candidate looking to be a universal COVID-19 vaccine booster for those already inoculated with other vaccines. The 68-year-old Soon-Shiong was born in Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth) to Chinese immigrant parents and graduated from the University of Witwatersrand with a medical degree before moving to the U.S. While there, he developed cancer drug Abraxane, from which he made his fortune. He also founded ImmunityBio, which believes its candidate could activate T-cells considered to be an instrumental part of the body’s immune response against the virus. The California-based biotech was selected as part of the U.S. Operation Warp Speed last year, intended to fast-track the development of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Two weeks ago, the Nasdaq-listed immunotherapy company announced it had received the greenlight from the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) to commence its South Africa Sisonke T-Cell Universal Boost trial. The Phase 1/2/3 study is expected to commence during the third quarter, and “is designed to evaluate hAd5 Spike + Nucleocapsid (S+N) as a boost for South African healthcare workers previously vaccinated with an S-only vaccine”. The company indicated it was encouraged by the preliminary safety data from its ongoing Phase 1 studies being conducted in both the U.S. and South Africa. ImmunoBio is also planning a second trial, which will look to assess the vaccine candidate’s safety and efficiency in previously infected participants. The trial has also been granted SAHPRA approval.