Sunday, December 20, 2015

Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos Saga Continues

A saga is a story of a heroic epic.

By that measure, the story of Elizabeth Holmes, age 32, and the company she founded, Theranos, qualifies as a saga.

How else would you describe the story of how a Stanford dropout in her twenties managed to form a Silicon Valley startup, collected $400 million to do it from venture capitalists, and then saw her brain child , Theranos, rise to market value of $9 billion?

Ms. Holmes was an entrepreneur with a dream. Given a new technology to perform a 150 tests on a finger prick of blood, her company would give patients control over their health destinies by allowing them to prick their fingers for a drop of blood, order the tests they wanted without a prescription from a doctor, then go to a nearby pharmacy or drawing center like Walgreens, or one run by a major health care company, like the Cleveland Clinic, and then have Theranos do the analysis.

The tests would be inexpensive, the turnaround time for results in hours instead of days or weeks , and voila! consumers, at long last, would be where they ought to be - in control of their health care. The health care system would undergo an unprecedented disruption innovation, and the lab testing behemoths, Quest Diagnostics and the Laboratory Corporation of America would become obsolete.

But, alas, her dream may come tumbling down. The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) has stepped in because of complaints that Theranos tests may not be as accurate as portrayed and may mislead consumers. The FDA is now inspecting Theranos testing facilities and the accuracy of its tests, and is insisting Theranos comply with its rules.

Now the company must get approval of all of its equipment and tests – including devices needs to analyze and perform tests, as well as the containers used to collect blood from finger pricks.

Perhaps there is some truth in the saying, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

Perhaps in the end the FDA will prohibit all testing, or narrow testing to just a few selected tests.

Perhaps Ms. Holmes will become a modern Joan of Arc, burned at the federal stake for her heretical beliefs. Or perhaps she will prevail by proving beyond doubt in the accuracy of the new technologies she is espousing. Let us hope so.

For the full story and the details of this saga, I suggest you read “Theranos Founder Faces Ultimate Test of Mission: a lifelong achiever works to salvage the reputation of her company and its technology.” (New York Times, December 20, 2015).

Set aside some time. The article is 2900 words long, the story islong and tangled, details are obscure, and big name celebrities are involved.

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