Pharma’s richest of the rich in the U.S.

May 11, 2020
America's top pharma billionaires

The pharma world may not be as packed with billionaires as other industries, but a number of industry titans still made it onto Forbe’s 2020 list of the world’s billionaires.

All told, Forbe’s annual list counted 2,095 billionaires around the world and across all industries, which is 58 fewer than last year.

In health care, the list included about 140 billionaires spread between the pharma, biotech, medical devices, hospitals and medical equipment sectors. In pharma alone, about half of the world’s richest made their fortune in China. At the top of that list stand China’s powerhouse couple, Zhong Huijuan and her husband, Sun Piaoyang, who are worth $14.6 and $11.5 billion respectively. Huijuan famously left her job teaching chemistry to launch Hansoh Pharmaceutical Group, which has grown into China’s largest seller of psychotropic drugs, while Piaoyang leads Jiangsu Hengrui Medicine, a leader in anti-tumor and anti-infection medications.

What about the billionaires in the U.S.? Here’s a quick look at America’s top 10:

Patrick Soon-Shiong, (#237 on the Forbes list), worth $6.4 billion

Soon-Shiong has a number of impressive accolades — surgeon, professor, businessman, owner of The Los Angeles Times and San Diego Tribune, and minority owner of the LA Lakers. But he made his mark in pharma by developing Abraxane, a blockbuster chemotherapy treatment used on a number of cancers. He now owns NantWorks, a constituent of healthcare companies that includes NantHealth, a biotech aimed at precision medicine and software solutions.

Li Ge, (#330), $5 billion

A scientist by training who received a PhD in organic chemistry from Columbia University, Li Ge went on to launch WuXi PharmTech in 2000. He now chairs WuXi Biologics, which provides a technology platform for biologics drug development.

Stewart Rahr, (#908), $2.3 billion

Stewart Rahr’s got his start in Queens, where he says he grew up with polio. After dropping out of college, he took over the small pharmaceutical distributor company his father founded in 1944 and later sold it to Cardinal Health in 2010 for $1.3 billion in cash. Rahr is now a noteworthy philanthropist, but is often just as well known for his extravagant lifestyle and support of conservative politicians, including Donald Trump (who he once bought an apartment from for $13 million)

Leonard Schleifer, (#1001), $2.1 billion

A well-known name in pharma, Leonard Schleifer co-founded Regeneron in 1988 and is still the company’s top dog. Although his yearly salary is comparable to other CEOs in pharma, Schleifer acquired nearly 4 percent of the company’s stock after it went public in 1991.

Hao Hong, (#1135), $1.9 billion

In 1995, Hao Hong, who holds a PhD in pharmaceutical chemistry, founded Shenzhen-listed Asymchem Laboratories, a global CDMO focused on small molecule APIs and finished formulations.

Randal J. Kirk, (#1135), $1.9 billion

Although Randal Kirk got his start as a lawyer, he went on to become a major investor in pharmaceuticals. Kirk’s first successful deal came with General Injectables and Vaccines, a company he co-founded in 1983 and then sold for $63 million in 1998. Kirk is now the chairman of Intrexon (recently renamed to Precigen), a biotech focused on cell and gene therapies.

Robert Duggan, (#1196), $1.8 billion

A serial entrepreneur, Robert Duggan became a billionaire with the success of Imbruvica, an oncology treatment developed by his company, Phamacyclics. Duggan later netted $3.5 billion after selling Phamacyclics to AbbVie in 2015. Duggan is also the wealthiest member of the Church of Scientology.

Phillip Frost, (#1415), $1.5 billion 

Another serial entrepreneur and investor in health care, Phillip Frost was also the chairman of Teva, and now runs diagnostics-maker Opko Health. Frost made headlines in 2018 after settling a “pump and dump” scheme lawsuit brought by the SEC. Frost did not admit or deny the claims, but paid $5.5 million to settle the suit.

Alice Schwartz, (#1415), $1.5 billion

Known as America’s oldest female, self-made billionaire, Alice Schwartz, now 93, launched Bio-Rad Laboratories with her husband in 1952 for just $720. Today the company sells more than 10,000 products used by biologists in lab research.  

Osman Kibar, (#1513), $1.4 billion 

In 2008, Osman Kibar launched the San Diego-based biotech firm Samumed, which specializes in tissue-level regenerative medicines for conditions like osteoarthritis. He was also the scientific founder of Genoptix, an oncology diagnostics company that was acquired by Novartis.  

About the Author

Meagan Parrish | Senior Editor