“I came from South Africa, where I saw [racism] growing up. The difference, in a funny way, is that it was Apartheid, but it was Apartheid in the open,” said Soon-Shiong, who moved to the United States in 1977. “I thought we were coming to the land of the free. And frankly, I’ve been completely disenchanted.”
“Unfortunately, the Asian culture and mentality is to just suck it up. Do your work. Do your thing. Be quiet,” Soon-Shiong said. “I don’t think that can happen any longer.”
‘Lack of empathy’
“One professor from UCLA that had a house next door quite openly said, ‘We don’t like people like you here.’ It was pretty blatant,” he said.
“This country better wake up to this, because it becomes something that this next generation will deal with,” he said.
The Trump factor
The heightened racial tensions come in the midst of a once-in-a-century pandemic that originated in China.
“That really didn’t help at all,” Soon-Shiong said. “It didn’t help the Asians, didn’t help the Black community, the Latino community. The racism was just flamed.”
Soon-Shiong, whose company ImmunityBio is working on a vaccine candidate, said the Biden administration has done a “fantastic” job in rolling out Covid vaccines and successfully encouraging Americans to get shots.
Yet he cautioned that no one knows how long the protection afforded by the vaccines will last and said he’s “really concerned” about coronavirus variants that have yet to fully reach US shores.
Soon-Shiong urged governments to fund the next generation of vaccine research and “face the fact that this pandemic may be ongoing if we don’t address it now.”
“You can mail [the pills] across all of Africa. Now you can vaccinate a billion people,” Soon-Shiong said, adding that the treatment could also potentially serve as a universal booster.
Soon-Shiong said his work to help South Africa, and Africa broadly, defeat the pandemic fulfills a promise he made decades ago to eventually return to his home country.
“It’s taken me a long time,” he said, “but I’m coming back.”