TTA’s Autumn Action 2: a Digital Health 150 Hot List, Bubble Watch, WOT for TB, EHR alla voce, and latest on Theranos

 

As the Big Chill of Autumn sets in, there’s a new Hot List of Digital Startups, an IPO for the Bubble Watch, a fresh term for your lexicon, and a voice-activated EHR in your future. And Theranos’ Elizabeth Holmes can’t pay her legal bills. (Sigh)

CB Insights names a Top 150 of digital health startups (Quite attention-getting)
WOT with Proteus found equal to or better than DOT in TB medication adherence trial (Wirelessly Observed Therapy a new add to the lexicon)
The Theranos Story, ch. 61: Elizabeth Holmes as legal deadbeat (Priorities, priorities)
Health tech bubble watch: Alphabet-backed One Medical reportedly prepping for 2020 IPO (Letting the IPO dust settle?)
Does healthcare need a new EHR system? A major health system thinks so. (Allscripts gets a Northwell boost, alla voce)

We reflect in this fall season on the overuse of AI versus machine learning terminology–and why the TEC/telehealth boats aren’t rising with the market tide.

The confusion within TEC/telehealth between machine learning and AI-powered systems (AI is trendy, but trendy is not necessarily good when non-techies are buying your system)
If the market’s expanding, where’s the telecare and TEC boom? (A question we’ve been asking for years.)

Editor Charles jumps on the Analogue versus Digital Soapbox. (One of our most commented articles)

Telecare – time to sweat the analogue assets, not dump them (Editor Charles asks that you do your homework before you cart in that shiny new digital kit and throw the old out the window)

Summer may be winding down but activity is winding up. Doro acquires Invicta, Amazon’s PillPack hits a data wall, Humana first payer to join CTA. Judge Leon finally blesses CVS-Aetna’s merger after 9 months. And events, including Digital Mental Health at the RSM 23 Sept.

News and event roundup: Amazon PillPack, Humana joins CTA, NH’s telemedicine go, Fitbit Lives Healthy in Singapore, supporting Helsinki’s older adults, events
Shock news: the CVS-Aetna merger officially approved after 9 months (Judge Leon’s Final Judgment delivered. But what about future healthcare mergers?)
Doro AB acquires Invicta Telecare from Clarion Housing, increasing to nearly 200,000 users (UK) (Consolidation continues)
Digital Mental Health for Adults – a one day conference at the RSM on 23 September 2019 in London (Sponsored by the RSM)

Being contrarian, we consider that AI and machine learning may be doing real damage both in its workings and in the quality of all that medical data being fed into it. Regrettably, telemedicine in nursing homes looks like a permanent failure. And CMS takes the lead in the PFS with three new telehealth codes on opioid treatment.

A realistic look at why telemedicine isn’t succeeding in nursing homes (It should, but it’s the economics of the business)
Are AI’s unknown workings–fed by humans–creating intellectual debt we can’t pay off? (Building dangerous error upon error with bad data, destroying theoretical thinking–and that’s for starters)
CMS’ three new proposed telehealth codes, changes on inclusions, in 2020 Medicare Physician Fee Schedule (US) (CMS takes initiative in opioid treatment)


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Telehealth & Telecare Aware: covering the news on latest developments in telecare, telehealth, telemedicine and health tech, worldwide–thoughtfully and from the view of fellow professionals

Thanks for asking for update emails. Please tell your colleagues about this news service and, if you have relevant information to share with the rest of the world, please let me know.

Donna Cusano, Editor In Chief
donna.cusano@telecareaware.com

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The Theranos Story, ch. 61: Elizabeth Holmes as legal deadbeat

Did her lawyers expect otherwise? This weekend’s news of Elizabeth Holmes’ legal team at Cooley LLP withdrawing their representation services due to non-payment should not have caused much surprise. Cooley’s attorney team petitioned the court to withdraw from the case, stating that “Ms. Holmes has not paid Cooley for any of its work as her counsel of record in this action for more than a year.”

Cooley was representing Ms. Holmes in a class-action civil suit in Phoenix brought against her, former Theranos president Sunny Balwani, and Walgreens, charging fraud and medical battery. (When they withdraw, will she seek public representation based on poverty?)

Perhaps Ms. Holmes is the one who’s setting priorities, as the civil suit would be for monetary damages, and no money means there will be none for the plaintiffs to collect. The DOJ charges are a different story. She is on the hook for nine counts of wire fraud and two counts of conspiracy related to her actions at Theranos. Conviction on these could send her to Club Fed for 20 years plus a fine of $250,000 plus restitution for each charge. [TTA 16 June]

Last Wednesday, both Ms. Holmes and lawyers for her and Mr. Balwani were in Federal court in San Jose on the wire fraud and conspiracy charges, demanding that the government release documents from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) that allegedly would clear them. After an hour, Judge Davila set 4 November as the next hearing date. 

Defending oneself does not come cheap, but after your company’s value crashes to $0 from $9bn, one might be looking for change in your Roche-Bobois couch and wondering if your little black Silicon Valley-entrepreneur formal pantsuit/white shirt ensembles will last through the trial. CNBC 2 Oct, CNBC 4 OctFox Business, Business Insider

The Theranos Story, ch. 55: ‘Bad Blood’s’ altered reality on ‘Mad Money’; it was all Bad Blitzscaling

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Rock-1-crop-2.jpg” thumb_width=”150″ /]

She lied and the lies got bigger and bigger and eventually the lies got so big relative to reality that it became a pretty massive fraud. 

The hyperbolic Jim Cramer of CNBC’s ‘Mad Money’ settled down for a chat with John Carreyrou, the author of ‘Bad Blood’, to dissect what Mr. Cramer touted as ‘the best business book since Phil Knight’s book about starting Nike, ‘Shoe Dog”. Mr. Carreyrou outlines Elizabeth Holmes and Sunny Balwani went ‘live’ with fingerstick tests far too prematurely, burned through money, lied to the board, and (schadenfreude alert!) lied to attack dog David Boies, her attorney. There was also a real lack of ‘due diligence’–real diligence–on the part of companies like Safeway and Walgreens. A reveal coming out of this interview is that Walgreens hired a lab consultant, Kevin Hunter, as early as 2010, who ‘smelled a rat’ even then–and Walgreens executives ignored him, frightened that Ms. Holmes would go to CVS. Wrapping Ms. Inexplicable Me up, Mr. Carreyrou attributes her mindset to ‘noble cause corruption’; she really did believe that her blood testing machine would do good because the outcome would be good for society. Thus every corner cut was justified….which explains a lot, but really excuses nothing. The ten-minute video is over at ValueWalk (the transcript is only partial).

LinkedIn’s hyperbolic co-founder Reid Hoffman, like him or not, does have a way with words, and this article in Fast Company is a decent discussion of a new term that he actually coined, ‘blitzscaling’ which is pursuing rapid growth by prioritizing speed over efficiency in the face of uncertainty. It’s quite a lure he sets out to his classes at Stanford, that the only way to have a successful business in winner-take-all (or most) markets is to do this, and if you do it right you’ll have the next Google, completely ignoring the fact that 99.99 percent of businesses don’t need to change the world, just to get to breakeven, get to profitability, and endure (or get bought out). He springboards off this to where Ms. Holmes and Mr. Balwani Went All Wrong. The answer? Product failure=Mortal Risk–to the patient. They needed to meet a Walgreens deadline thus went out prematurely with their nanotainer testing knowing it did not work. The best quote in the article?

There’s a big difference between being embarrassed and being indicted.

The Theranos Story, ch. 54: cue up ‘Tainted Love’ in the courtroom

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Rock-1-crop-2.jpg” thumb_width=”150″ /]Tainted Love, Labs, and Lucre Indeed. Drop the needle on the Gloria Jones version from 1964 or the Soft Cell version from 1981.

Consider that the very fates of Ms. Elizabeth Holmes, the now not-so-Sunny Balwani, and the formerly $9 bn Unicorn Theranos may hinge on the nature of their personal relationship and its influence on the governance of the company.

There are two legal actions against the company and the two principals, one by the DOJ for criminal fraud [TTA 16 June] and by the SEC on (civil) securities fraud [TTA 15 March].  Both are out on $500,000 bail on the DOJ charges. The possibilities on the latter can be up to 20 years in Club Fed, plus $250,000 in fines and clawing back of investor funds, if any can be found.

While Ms. Holmes settled with the SEC, paying a fine and exiting the company, Mr. Balwani did not and is fighting the charges, though this declaration was made before the DOJ charges.

Bloomberg Markets brings up an interesting set of dynamics which can play well with potential jurors and make the prosecution’s case far more convincing for a Northern California jury. To wit, in 2009 when she started running out of money, Ms. Holmes turned to Mr. Balwani, her boyfriend, for a $12 million line of credit. In return, he became president and COO. The nature of their relationship was kept strictly hush-hush to the board and investors. Secrecy was ratcheted up at the company and management started to break down. And the timing: a week after Mr. Balwani left, the news of bad patient test results and problems with their lab started to break big.

Jurors, even in Silicon Valley, love drama and personal intrigue–especially the type that underscores deception and $900 million in fraud perpetrated by a Stanford dropout who clumsily attempted to channel Saint Jobs and a somewhat schlubby dude who Should Have Known Better. Far more than gullible corporate suits at Walgreens and hedge funds….add to it the personal stories of patients harmed by bad Theranos tests and you get an emotional story worthy of Law & Order.

Do expect Ms. Holmes to bring up her Saint Joan if not a female Saint Sebastian analogy. Burning at the stake versus being shot full of arrows are too memorable images which she’ll try out. Add a #MeToo spin of a young woman coerced by an older man–a tale of at least tit-for-tat to get the $12 million. 

The rompin’ soap opera is likely to start next year. Stay tuned…. 

A finger-prick, 10 minute CBC test which actually works from Sight Diagnostics (Israel)

The Theranos Effect may have tainted innovation investments (versus easy puzzle-piece fits), but complete blood count (CBC) via small blood samples is hardly a dead idea. It’s very much alive with the scientists who founded Sight Diagnostics, an Israeli startup with a fit-on-a-desktop lab, Olo, which can run multiple CBC counts. Blood can be taken from a traditional or finger-stick draw, with the usual caveats on capillary blood. The technology works via machine vision to take images of the blood sample to identify and count the different types of cells with AI to do the analysis. The goal is to be able to install a lab in a doctor’s office and run the test in 10 minutes, not five days.

Sight was founded by Daniel Levner, an artificial intelligence expert who was a scientist at Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering (not a Stanford undergrad dropout), and Yossi Pollak, previously at Mobileye, an automotive computer vision developer that Intel bought for $15.3 billion last year–the largest Israeli tech exit ever. Oh, and they have an advisory board of Real Scientists.

Adding to Sight’s credibility is their CE Mark gained for Olo and completion of a 287-person clinical trial at Israel’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center, both announced this week. Webwire

The company is up to a Series B and has raised over $25 million since 2010 (Crunchbase)–a drop compared to Theranos, a subject where the founders are a little bit touchy, based on this Editor’s read of the Forbes article. While Olo is investigational in the US, their malaria test Parasight – which detects malaria using digital fluorescent microscopy and computer vision algorithms–has already sold over 600,000 units in 24 countries across Europe, Africa, and Asia–another major difference from Theranos. A significant investor is Eric Schmidt, formerly of Google, and head of Innovation Endeavors (SF Business Journal, slightly paywalled).

Video (01:56)

The Theranos Story, ch. 51: how Holmes wasn’t Steve Jobs despite the turtlenecks–a compare and contrast

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/jacobs-well-texas-woe1.jpg” thumb_width=”150″ /]Did Elizabeth Holmes ‘misunderstand’ Steve Jobs’ methods or was there something more deliberate at work? This article by tech entrepreneur Derek Lidow in Forbes gives her the benefit of the doubt but is still damning. His points in summary are:

  • Holmes ran Theranos with zero knowledge of how to run an organization, and ran Theranos like a dictator. Hiring people with real expertise came late in the day, and most of them left once they realized her style. Jobs knew he couldn’t run a company, generally hired the right people to do so, and then let them run it.
  • Jobs teamed with a genius engineer named Steve Wozniak in Apple’s formative years, and the Woz guided Jobs as much as anyone at numerous critical stages. Woz was the balance to Jobs, the behind the scenes versus the on-stage. Holmes did not work with anyone in that way, which is atypical for startup founders. Her co-founder was unqualified, she didn’t listen to her staff as problems came up, and her board was a waste of titles and people who were either wholly capable in other fields or superannuated.
  • Holmes’ goal of mini-blood assays was impossible, and she was unlike other visionary founders to pivot to what was possible. Jobs tempered his vision by using methods and technologies which already existed to leverage Apple into what he envisioned. (Jobs also had his fair number of stumbles, such as the Newton tablet where the vision exceeded the available technology. It was also too advanced, violating the Raymond Loewy maxim of ‘most advanced yet acceptable’.)
  • Delighting the customer? Where Jobs excelled in this not only with end users but also with developer partners, Holmes failed and more. With deceptive blood testing, she hurt sick patients and doctors who depended on accuracy. The vision and her self-promotion were far more important. She wasn’t doing this for people–she was doing this for herself.
  • Holmes was over the top on compartmentalizing Theranos’ technical development, straight to failure. Teams on the same project didn’t share knowledge or fundamentally communicate with each other. This led to bad testing of only parts of the system, not the whole system. While Jobs kept a tight lock on exposing Apple developments until they were ready, department teams on a given project intensively shared information. 

Wearing the black turtleneck, being a young female, blond, and with enhanced blue pop-eyes akin to a Bug-Eyed Austin-Healey Sprite can get you noticed, but then you have to deliver the goods for that $900 million you raised. Holmes was inexperienced and psychologically ill-equipped to be a tech founder. This Editor also wondered if she (literally) garbed herself in Jobs’ exterior trappings to deceive and gull everyone from the mighty and rich to the ordinary and often sick. (And now she tells people she is a marytr akin to Saint Joan?)

The Theranos Effect, for which Holmes is responsible, will sadly continue to hurt not only early-stage healthcare innovators but also the few women among them. The Theranos Scandal: What Happens When You Misunderstand Steve Jobs

The Theranos Story, ch. 50: DOJ indicts Holmes, Balwani for fraud (updated)

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/jacobs-well-texas-woe1.jpg” thumb_width=”150″ /]The other shoe drops into this bottomless well. If Elizabeth Holmes and Sunny Balwani thought that the March SEC action [TTA 15 Mar] would be it, they were misinformed. Today, the Department of Justice, US Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California, charged them with two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and nine counts of wire fraud. According to CNBC, they were arraigned in US District Court in San Jose Friday morning. Both were released on $500,000 bond each and ordered to surrender their passports. Holmes’ parents appeared with her in court.

If found guilty, both Ms. Holmes and Mr. Balwani face up to 20 years in prison, plus $250,000 in fines and clawing back of investor funds. 

“Wire fraud” in US law is fraud that is enabled and takes place over phone lines or involves electronic communications. By appearing online, making phone calls, emailing materials such as marketing materials, statements to the media, financial statements, models, and other information, Ms. Holmes and Mr. Balwani defrauded potential investors. Patients and doctors were defrauded by ads and other types of solicitations to use Theranos’ blood testing services at Walgreens, despite the fact that they knew the test results were unreliable.

Both Ms. Holmes and Mr. Balwani will have plenty of time to explain their sincere belief that their test devices and methods would be validated with time…but they had to, in Silicon Valley parlance, fake it till they made it. Indictments of this type take about two years to conclude, especially if they are big (as a formerly $9 bn valued company is) and tangled. Ms. Holmes will undoubtedly release statements on how she is being martyred like Saint Joan, how this doesn’t happen to men in Silicon Valley, and that they are allowed to fail but she can’t. Perhaps she was under the spell of the 19 years-her-senior Svengali Balwani. (Minus the Jobsian black turtlenecks, one anticipates her next choice of wardrobe. Sackcloth tied with a rope? Chain mail?)

Expect the doors to shut soon. Fortress Investment Group, which loaned Theranos $65 million (of a reported $100 million) in December 2017, was reportedly coming for the assets (as they are wont to do) by the end of July, according to the Wall Street Journal and other sources. 

Ms. Holmes is–finally–removed as CEO. Theranos announced that David Taylor, the company’s general counsel, has been appointed CEO as well as general counsel, while Ms. Holmes will remain as founder and board chair. None of this is reflected on their website. In fact, Mr. Taylor is nowhere to be found on the website’s leadership page. 

The estimable John Carreyrou, who broke the story in the WSJ and is the author of Bad Blood [TTA 13 June], on The Street’s Technically Speaking podcast at 06:00 shared this insight on how Theranos got away with bad tests. While both FDA and CMS highly regulate lab testing and the machines that perform them, neither actively police “lab-developed tests, which refer to tests fashioned with their own methods and devices” for blood testing. Basically, according to Mr. Carreyrou, Holmes and Balwani, our Bonnie and Clyde, “drove a truck right thru that loophole and took advantage of it.” Far beyond B&C, $1 bn of investors’ money is the Federal Reserve of banks.

On the indictment: WSJ, CNBC. The Northern District release on the indictment is here. Another essay by Mr. Carreyrou published 18 May is available to those who can get past the paywall. Hat tip to Bill Oravecz of WTO Consultants.

Updated: For additional coverage of what’s next in the legal vein for Holmes and Balwani, see the NY Times on potential defense strategies for the duo, including that they truly believed what they were saying to investors was true and they were bamboozled like everyone else, ‘materiality’–that investors didn’t use the statements as a basis for investing, and ‘prove it’. Will they take a plea deal? Stay tuned. 

The Theranos Story, ch. 49: CEO Holmes reportedly raising funds for a new company–and feeling like Joan of Arc

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/jacobs-well-texas-woe1.jpg” thumb_width=”150″ /]Here’s the place where your money will go if you’re an investor. John Carreyrou has now compiled his reporting for the Wall Street Journal on Theranos into a new book, Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup, and it is a Must Read for this Editor and anyone interested in the nexus of Tech, Healthcare, and Hype. (The link goes to AbeBooks, a worthy marketplace for independent booksellers.)

According to Mr. Carreyrou, the founder/CEO Miss Elizabeth Holmes–still leading the company despite settling with the SEC on fraud charges, surrendering her voting control, barred from serving as a public company director or officer for 10 years, and still fighting civil lawsuits–is raising fresh funds for a new venture.

Your eyes did not fool you.

Theranos was a Dogpile of Deceit. From hacking standard Siemens blood testing machines to work with tiny samples, falsifying test results, faking up the Edison test machine, to company financials, it was one lie on the other, chronicled for our Readers in nearly 50 chapters and multiple references. 

Mr. Carreyrou was asked by former Timesman and Vanity Fair reporter Nick Bilton whether, in this unmistakable pattern, Ms. Holmes was a sociopath. Mr. Carreyrou wisely refrained from diagnosis based on a used DSM-V, being a reporter and not her psychiatrist. From Mr. Bilton’s interview podcasted on ‘Inside the Hive’:

“At the end of my book, I say that a sociopath is described as someone with no conscience. I think she absolutely has sociopathic tendencies. One of those tendencies is pathological lying. I believe this is a woman who started telling small lies soon after she dropped out of Stanford, when she founded her company, and the lies became bigger and bigger,” Carreyrou said. “I think she’s someone that got used to telling lies so often, and the lies got so much bigger, that eventually the line between the lies and reality blurred for her.”

Mr. Carreyrou, and by inference anyone who doubted her, like her CFO, and especially those who went public with criticism–well, we are the Bad Guys:

“She has shown zero sign of feeling bad, or expressing sorrow, or admitting wrongdoing, or saying sorry to the patients whose lives she endangered,” he said. He explained that in her mind, according to numerous former Theranos employees he has spoken to, Holmes believes that her entourage of employees led her astray and that the bad guy is actually John Carreyrou. “One person in particular, who left the company recently, says that she has a deeply engrained sense of martyrdom. She sees herself as sort of a Joan of Arc who is being persecuted,” he said.

Mr. Carreyrou was set upon by this ‘martyr’s’ legal pitbulls, one David Boies, until he wisely exited stage left with a bushelful of worthless stock [TTA 21 Nov 16].

(And what is it about Stanford University that fosters people like Ron Gutman, recently ousted from HealthTap over employee abuse and intimidation charges in what may be a Silicon Valley First? [TTA 3 May] Here we have someone who plays with people’s lives and health in vital blood testing. Aren’t some ethics courses long overdue?) 

Mr. Bilton makes the extremely fine point that Silicon Valley will continue to be magnetically attracted to founders equipped with a ‘reality-distortion field’ (as he termed Steve Jobs). SV will relegate Theranos to a biotech outlier. Yet as long as Silicon Valley MoneyMen like Tim Draper will back the likes of Elizabeth Holmes as long as they have a good line of (stuff), despite being embarrassingly proven not just (and only) wrong, but now perpetrating fraud, the Jobsian Myth and black turtlenecks will rise again like Dracula. (Another analogy comes to mind, but precocious children might be reading this.)

We haven’t heard the last of her.

An excellent interview by Tom Dotan of Mr. Carreyrou is podcasted on The Information’s 411 in “You’re So Vein”, which gets the award for Title of the Week (trial signup required, or listen on SoundCloud). Starting at 15:00, interesting comments on the why of Sunny Balwani and Ms. Holmes’ series of ‘marks’ including George Shultz. Also Gizmodo and Politico’s Morning eHealth newsletter.

The Theranos Story, ch. 47: the post-mortem, blaming–and ghost chasing–begin

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Yak_52__G-CBSS_FLAT_SPIN.jpg” thumb_width=”150″ /]Now that Elizabeth Holmes is the former CEO of Theranos, many of the publications who huzzahed their ‘revolutionary’ blood testing system three short years ago are publishing their post-mortem analyses, often of how the wool was pulled over their eyes.

Jenny Gold from Kaiser Health News and NPR has a short ‘alarming’ tale of her press visit in November 2014 to a Theranos testing site at a Palo Alto Walgreens for an NPR feature. At Walgreens, she spoke with patients on the record and was invited to witness their blood draw–not the finger prick Theranos (and Walgreens) promoted, but a standard volume blood draw. After multiple and telling upset reactions from her company press handlers, including demanding Ms. Gold erase her audio recording (!) and accusing her of harassment, alarms went off at the Walgreens store for a non-existent fire. She was baited with an interview with Ms. Holmes–which never happened–and wound up with a corporate attorney instead who made unsupported statements. Ms. Gold canceled her story, which if she tracked the bad smell would have been likely the first press shot across the bow. What this post-mortem tells us is the extent of the coverup and the sheer (and unethical) fawning flackery that appeared in places like the New Yorker, Forbes, Inc., and Fortune.  NPR

The FT further digs into our gullibility, our wanting to believe that someone in a black turtleneck could put the Big Labs out of business,  how we in the press hungered for a new and female Steve Jobs to shake up the status quo. Andrew Hill: “Trouble often hits, though, when leaders stick to their story after it has diverged from reality, swerving into embellishment, mythmaking and, in Ms Holmes’s case, apparently fraud.”

But we were no smarter than those who gave Ms. Holmes and Mr. Ramesh ‘Sunny’ Balwani $700 million in Mad Money. (more…)

The Theranos Story, ch. 40: investor fraud revealed in equipment, fake demos, testing

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/The-big-dig.jpg” thumb_width=”150″ /]Theranos’ ‘Big Dig’ is larger than this German art installation representing a Hole to China. It was as smooth as the turf depicted. Set up some shell companies, buy equipment from Siemens, modify it to take the mini-samples for the Theranos Edison mini-lab–and run their customers’ blood tests on them. Get incentives from a credulous Arizona governor and legislature. Run fake tests for investors on this equipment. Promise $1 bn in 2014 gross profits. Then, when it all comes undone, tell the investors to take additional equity shares and not to sue, or else it’s Chapter 11. Oh yes, and settle with Arizona for nearly $5 million and CMS for $30,000 [Ch. 39].

The latest reveal in the Theranos Saga took place in busy Delaware Chancery Court in a lawsuit brought by investor Partner Fund Management (PFM) LP and two other associated funds, which invested over $96 million in 2014. The unsealed documents, part of the follow-up to a lawsuit originally filed in October 2016 [Ch. 21] and another filed this month to block the equity offer to investors, contain depositions from 22 former employees and (hold the presses) directors. The (paywalled) Wall Street Journal article revealed that Theranos bought commercial blood testing lab equipment from reputable companies including Siemens, modified them to take the miniature samples that Theranos collected, used them to conduct both customer testing and from the filing, “fake ‘demonstrations tests’ for prospective investors and business partners”. Theranos used a shell company, Protegic Procurement Company, to make the purchases. Former director Adm. Gary Roughead, USN (Ret.), was quoted as being unaware of the fact that there were “extensive commercial analyzers in use.”

Now it is not uncommon for competitors’ equipment to be used for reference purposes and testing, especially when the company still is in process for their regulatory approvals. However, the lawsuit claims that customer tests were run on these labs, and not for a limited time as Theranos claims. The demonstration test claims are even more damning as they show fraudulent intent to investors.

The other part of the PFM lawsuit alleges that Theranos investors, including them, were pressured to not sue and take the additional equity deal [Ch. 38] by an attorney representing Theranos, who suggested that the alternative was to seek Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. “Theranos officials engineered the share offer in a way that would make it impossible for the funds to obtain “any recovery” as part of its bankruptcy filing.” The PFM filing to block was successful. On April 11, Theranos was stopped from going forward with the share-exchange plan, with that hearing scheduled for June 26, not ideal for a company which is buying time before the money runs out. Bloomberg

The ‘cherry on the fraud cake’ is Theranos’ wildly inflated projection of a $1 billion gross profit in 2014. Theranos, of course, states that “The suit is without merit, the assertions are baseless, and the plaintiff is engaging in revisionist history.” Is ‘fake news’ the next claim? Ars Technica, TechCrunch, Fortune, Engadget.

Rest assured that there are many other chapters to come, as the lawsuits continue, including one for $140 million by Walgreens Boots, and the Colman/Taubman-Dye suit in California. Our Theranos and related articles are indexed here.

The Theranos Story, ch. 28: when the SecDef nominee is on the Board of Directors

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/jim_mattis.jpg” thumb_width=”150″ /]Does ‘Mad Dog’ ‘Warrior Monk’ James Mattis, General, USMC (ret.) have a blind spot when it comes to Theranos? President-Elect Donald J. Trump has selected him as the next Administration’s nominee for Secretary of Defense. A remarkable leader and, yes, scholar (check his background in various sources), but he has some ‘splaining to do, in this Editor’s opinion.

This Editor leads with this question because those who have been following the Continuing Saga (which, like the Nordics, seems never-ending) know that Theranos stuffed its Board of Directors (BOD), prior to last October, with a selection of Washington Luminaries, often of a great age: Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, Sen. Sam Nunn, Sen. Bill Frist (the only one with an MD), William Perry and Gary Roughead, a retired U.S. Navy admiral. It also reads like a roster of Hoover Institution Fellows except for Sen. Frist, who sticks to the East Coast. Another interesting point: Hoover is based at Stanford University, an institution from which Elizabeth Holmes dropped out to Follow Her Vision. Obviously, there was an accompanying Vision of Washington Pull.

Also joining the BOD as of July 2013, well before The Troubles, and shortly after his retirement, was Gen. Jim Mattis (also a Hoover Fellow, photo above). When the Washington Luminaries were shuffled off to a ‘board of counselors’ after the Wall Street Journal exposé hit in October, Gen. Mattis remained on the governing BOD. Unlike his fellow Fellows, he had actually been involved with a potential deployment of the lab testing equipment. As we previously noted, as commandant of US Central Command (CENTCOM is Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia), he advocated tests of the Theranos labs under in-theatre medicine conditions in 2012-13. Leaked emails cited by the Washington Post (in Gizmodo) and also in the Wall Street Journal indicate the opposition from the US Army Medical Research and Materiel Command at health-intensive Fort Detrick MD, which oversees medical research, based on the undeniable fact that the equipment and the tests weren’t FDA-cleared, which remained true two years later…and which Gen. Mattis tried to get around, being a good Marine. Nonetheless, the procurement of Theranos equipment was halted. DOD permitted him to join the BOD after retirement as long as he was not involved in any representations to DOD or the services. (Wikipedia bio)

Yesterday, Theranos also announced that it is dissolving (draining?) the ‘board of counselors’. They led with a BOD shuffle, with Daniel J. Warmenhoven, retired chairman of NetApp, replacing director Riley P. Bechtel, who is withdrawing for health reasons. (Warmenhoven also serves on the Bechtel board, so they are keeping an eye on the estimated $100 million they invested). Gizmodo and Inc. While effective January 1, the Theranos website has already scrubbed the counselors and updated the BOD.

However, Gen. Mattis remains a director, until such time as he actually becomes Secretary of Defense, which is not a lock for Senate approval by a long shot. First, he requires a Congressionally approved waiver demanded by the National Security Act of 1947, as he has been retired only four years (as of 2017) not the required seven. Second, his involvement with Theranos has already been questioned in the media. After all, it is a Federal Poster Child of Silicon Valley Bad Behavior: censured by CMS, under investigation by SEC and DOJ. It is a handy, easily understandable club with which to beat him bloody (sic). WSJ’s wrapup.

In this Editor’s opinion, the good General should have left in October, but certainly by April when CMS laid the sanctions down, banning Ms Holmes and Mr Balwani from running labs for two years in July. What is going on in the ‘Warrior Monk’s’ mind in sticking around? Is there anything to save? 

If the WSJ articles are paywalled, search on ‘Gen. James Mattis Has Ties to Theranos’ and ‘Recent Retirement, Theranos Ties Pose Possible Obstacles for Mattis Confirmation’.  Oh yes…see here for the 27 previous TTA chapters in this Continuing, Consistently Amazing Saga.

The Theranos Story, ch. 25: is the nadir the $400,000 harassment of whistleblower Tyler Shultz?

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/jacobs-well-texas-woe1.jpg” thumb_width=”150″ /]A story to make your blood…boil. Tyler Shultz is a 26 year old Stanford University grad with a biology undergraduate degree. He ‘fell in love’ with the Theranos vision of quick small blood sample testing after visiting his grandfather’s home near the campus and meeting, of all people, Elizabeth Holmes in 2011. Tyler snagged a summer internship and then a full time job during their salad and steak days (September 2013). He worked on the assay validation team, which verified the accuracy of blood tests run on Edison machines before they were deployed in the lab for use with patients.

Then it all went sideways…and down. Ms Holmes was at his grandfather’s because he is George Shultz, 95 year old former secretary of state and Fellow at the Hoover Institution based at Stanford. Mr Shultz was one of the numerous Washington alumni lending luster to the Theranos board (now advisers), such as Henry Kissinger, Sam Nunn, James Mattis and Bill Frist (the last the only one with an MD).

Tyler Shultz soon discovered, like many new graduates, that his dream job wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be. Except that it wasn’t the hours or the quality of the snacks. He discovered that the Edison machines had highly variable results when tests were rerun with the same blood sample–and they routinely discarded the outliers from the validation reports. Edison testing for a sexually-transmitted infectious disease had a claimed 95 percent sensitivity. “But when Mr. Shultz looked at the two sets of experiments from which the report was compiled, they showed sensitivities of 65% and 80%.” It only got worse when he moved to the production team, where quality control standards were routinely flunked and President Sunny Balwani pressed lab employees to run the tests anyway. Mr Shultz went directly to Ms Holmes, twice, received a nastygram from Mr Balwani for the second, and quit–but not before anonymously sending results to the New York officials who administered a proficiency-testing program and who confirmed that the results sounded like ‘PT cheating’.

The rest of the story by John Carreyou is one of corporate harassment and family estrangement: legal harassment (including private investigators) by none other than David Boies’ law firm on the pretext of ‘confidential information’; the manipulation, currying of favor and misleading of a great but aged man; and a family’s trust fractured if not broken, despite the grandson being proven right, ironically, by the same Washington agencies that his grandfather so loyally served. Mr Shultz is now working on the Cloud DX team for the VITALITI Diagnostic Android Application in the running for the Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE. Wall Street Journal  See here for the 24 previous TTA chapters in this Continuing Saga.

The Theranos Story, ch. 24: looking for the nadir in Walgreens’ lawsuit

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/jacobs-well-texas-woe1.jpg” thumb_width=”150″ /]When will we find the nadir of Theranos’ business practices? Between the excruciating details of the Walgreens lawsuit and the treatment of an employee who knew the truth in 2014 (part 2), the bottom, like Jacob’s Well in Texas at left, may be unfindable.

The first is what is revealed in the public version (filed 15 Nov) of the civil complaint filed with the US District Court, District of Delaware (PDF). While heavily redacted in parts of text and in the exhibits, it is damning if all true–and there is little available information that does not fit Walgreens‘ narrative, though this Editor was left wondering why red flags about Theranos didn’t flap ‘n’ fly at Walgreens much earlier, especially with a reported $140 million investment at stake.

The relationship began in January 2010. A March presentation by Theranos included some astonishing claims: the Theranos finger-stick blood draw lab analysis had been comprehensively validated by ten of the leading fifteen pharmaceutical companies over seven years; that bio-pharma companies, “prominent research institutions, and US and foreign government health and military organizations” had already used the technology; that Theranos was capable of launching it in retail stores by end of 2010. They also represented that they were positioned with FDA to introduce the technology outside of clinical studies. Johns Hopkins, contracted by Walgreens to validate their methodology, could only work with data provided by Theranos.

Did anyone at Walgreens think to check with said pharmas, researchers, government health and military organizations? There was time. The master agreement was not signed until 2012 and pilot stores opened in 2013.  (Pages 5-10, section 24 through 50). Interestingly, pages 11-12 which may deal with the labs, as well as many other parts, are heavily redacted.

In short, there is a gap of at least two years when Walgreens could have double-checked Theranos’ claims and methods, especially in the crucial period before pilot locations were opened. (To be fair, Theranos successfully maintained a veil of secrecy and a wall of PR smoke.) But the repercussions were huge.  It seems that Walgreens only woke up from the dream when the Wall Street Journal published its investigation another two years later in October 2015. In the immediate aftermath of the article, Walgreens learned that Theranos had abandoned the finger-stick draws…and that the head of the Newark CA lab was a full-time dermatologist onsite once a week (page 15).

After that point, the Theranos fan dance with Walgreens accelerates.

  • Theranos concealed the January and March 2016 CMS notices and subsequent reports on its labs to Walgreens until again the WSJ publicly revealed it (pages 17-18, 25). They also attempted to conceal the CMS rejection of the Plan of Correction for its labs (page 24).
  • Theranos accused Walgreens of breaching the agreement and confidentiality to the WSJ , and also cited delay in building out Wellness Centers–in February 2016 (pages 20-21)
  • Walgreens received nothing but evasions from Theranos including no notification of ‘tens of thousands’ voided results, including critical PT/INR coagulation results, until after the WSJ broke that bit of news on 18 May (page 26).

By 12 June 2016, the wheels were fully off (and the world was minding, indeed) and Walgreens called the breach of warranty. But even then, this was not until a final push–lawsuits were filed against both Theranos and Walgreens starting in late May.

One wonders how many reputations are on a stake (to mix two metaphors) at Walgreens Boots. Details in Ars Technica (which obtained the PDF and broke the story) and of course Neil Versel’s acerbic POV in MedCityNews. Hat tip to reader David Albert MD of AliveCor.

See here for the 23 previous TTA chapters in this Continuing Saga.

The Theranos Story, ch. 22: the human cost of lab error (updated)

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/upside-down-duck.jpg” thumb_width=”150″ /]Save this one for the coffee or lunch break. What is the cost of a lab error on the human psyche? It can be mildly upsetting to you and your doctor, warning of a developing condition and some changes have to be made–or make for a very bad day/week/months. It can be falsely reassuring or simply confusing.

We know that in April, Theranos flunked a CMS review, and in May voided all test results from its proprietary Edison devices from 2014 and 2015, as well as some other tests it ran on conventional machines. The results were not only off, but way off, according to the WSJ. “Notes from the CMS inspection show that 834 out of 2,890 quality-control checks run on the Edison in October 2014, or 29%, exceeded the company’s threshold of two standard deviations from its average result. Standard deviation is a statistical measurement of variation. In addition, 80% of the 834 quality-control checks that raised a red flag under Theranos’s internal standards were more than three standard deviations from its average result, the inspection notes show.”

They also failed to notify patients for weeks or months, and often not until forced to. At least 10 lawsuits have been filed in Arizona and California. Some of the human stories of Theranos’ improbable lab results, which included tens of thousands of patients, with the cost of retesting, repeated doctor visits and agonizing suspense :

  • After five widely different Theranos blood coagulation tests in six weeks, a retired marketer living in Arizona and his doctor so distrusted the results that the latter recommended that he stop taking warfarin and switch to a milder medication. This patient found out only last Friday that Theranos had corrected a September 2015 test showing his blood taking more than six times longer than normal to clot. The other four tests showed the warfarin wasn’t thinning his blood enough. Contradictory results confusing both doctor and patient on treatment.
  • A thyroid cancer survivor got thyroxine results (T4) from three tests conducted in October 2014. The extremely high results could have indicated hyperthyroidism at the least, or a more serious condition. The results–false after retesting failed to confirm.
  • A breast cancer survivor had extremely high levels of estradiol, which could have been produced by a rare adrenal tumor that can secrete estradiol or an elevated risk of breast-cancer recurrence. Again, false results but found only after retesting.

The comments under the article are worth the long scroll. (They are running 98 percent in favor of Holmes for Prison 2017. Also there are a few shots at Walgreens’ role in legitimatizing Theranos by putting their centers in store; this embarrassing part of the story isn’t over, in this Editor’s opinion.) What is evident–fraud perpetrated on patients and doctors–and anyone who invested. David Boies, their legal supremo and board member, is gonna have a full docket between this and the various legal actions taken by the Alphabet Agencies.

Agony, Alarm and Anger for People Hurt by Theranos’s Botched Blood Tests. If the WSJ is paywalled, search under the headline text.

See here for the agony of TTA’s 21 previous Theranos chapters. We hope that John Carreyrou and the WSJ investigative team, which we’d assume includes Mr Weaver, this article’s author, are awarded the Pulitzer Prize.

The Theranos Story, ch. 18: Is the ‘miniLab’ the Real Edison, or The Great Oz 1.0?

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Yak_52__G-CBSS_FLAT_SPIN.jpg” thumb_width=”150″ /]Is the Great Oz Behind the Curtain? Updated for The Box and additional articles. Before a skeptical audience Monday afternoon at the American Association for Clinical Chemistry‘s (AACC) annual meeting in Philadelphia, Theranos‘ CEO Elizabeth Holmes, due to be banned from the industry by CMS for lab violations, unveiled a new lab technology. According to Ryan Cross in the MIT Technology Review, “Holmes claimed her company had developed a sophisticated “miniLab” capable of carrying out an array of tests, including detecting the Zika virus, from a finger prick of blood.” A cube-like box, developed in secrecy, she called it a “single platform” able to carry out a wide array (or several–depending on what quote you read!) of different test types using small volumes of blood (apparently finger sticks). The device will be small, portable and directly connected to the internet to centrally send and verify test results. Ms Holmes actually took questions from a three-person scientific panel. When asked if she would be sharing the device with other researchers, she said she was “working on it right now.” It is not, of course, FDA-approved or in production.

Updated for video and new articles (as of 8/19/16).

  • MedCityNews’ Stephanie Baum must have some OSS/CIA blood in her, because it appears she’s beaten everyone on the miniLab Box picture plus posting the Theranos presentation video, which went up via AACC’s YouTube site within hours of the presentation. Other commitments prevent me from an analysis of the hour until later, but gone is the black turtleneck, remaining is the talent for tap dancing around hard facts. The comments in the article and from elsewhere echo the profound skepticism and cynicism found in the MIT and WaPo articles. Yes, the ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ intro was dark humor, served up the way we like it!
  • Bloomberg interviews attendees (scientists, clinical directors, professors, doctors) who believe they were baited and switched. The bait was the justification for Edison performance. The switch was The Box–a new technology, untested, untried and not even peer reviewed–that simply crunched down multiple existing tests into one container.
  • (Updated 8/19) AACC’s published article was short and straight up. “(Dr Steven) Master told Holmes that her data “fell far short” of what he expected based on the wide menu that Theranos promised previously.” Plenty of promises from Ms Holmes at the end, but if CMS has their way, which is likely, Ms Holmes’ “I’ve made the decision to double down and stick by it no matter how hard the path” and to be involved with AACC in the future, will be more empty Theranos promises.

Also WaPo, TechCrunch and POLITICO Morning eHealth

Is Theranos–and Ms Holmes–too far ‘gone’ to be credible or funded? Will there even be a Theranos company to develop this? Will Ms Holmes remain in the business through successfully appealing her imminent ban? The only sensible conclusion is that we’ll believe the technology–and her–when we see it is properly and independently verified–and operated by a company with proper governance and controls.

Stay Tuned to See if The Fix Is In.

Thumb through the prior 17 chapters of the Theranos Story here. Hat tips to @EdifInstruments and Editor Chrys Meewella for the links (WaPo and MIT respectively).

The Theranos story, ch. 17: closing the barn door after the horse

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Yak_52__G-CBSS_FLAT_SPIN.jpg” thumb_width=”150″ /] And it may work, though the horse is in the next county. Late last week, with American eyes elsewhere, Theranos announced that they hired two executives with regulatory responsibility–a chief compliance officer and an VP regulatory and quality–and formed a new board committee focused on same. The CCO is Dave Guggenheim, the former assistant general counsel for regulatory law at HIT/medical distribution giant McKesson. The VP, Daniel Wurtz, comes from a similar senior director position at biotech Thermo-Fisher Scientific.

The country maxim, ‘closing the barn door after the horse has bolted’, applies. In fact, the horse is in town and having a growler of beer at the local tavern. The Newark, California lab is shut and the principals, including the CEO Ms Holmes, are technically prohibited from operating a lab for at least two years (that means you, Ms Holmes) starting in a month. Messrs Guggenheim and Wurtz (or similar) should have been on board years ago. Even small companies in our field realize they HAVE to do this!

This also doesn’t affect the interesting interest that DOJ and SEC have in Theranos. [TTA 10 July]

However, this Editor will take the contrarian view that somehow, some way, the ‘fix’ is being worked out, if not in. Don’t make reservations for the fire sale quite yet. The ban on Ms Holmes won’t take place for another month, minimum. That gives time for David Boies, their legal supremo, and his firm to stall for more time, and time for some calls to ask favors from friends, of which he has many in this administration. More than likely, Boies on behalf of Theranos will appeal the CMS rulings to an administrative judge. Ms Holmes may take the hit, but may get a handsome payday to depart despite her reported control, if the investors can salvage something out of the company.

At HQ, they may be rehearsing saying ‘mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa’ three times, kneeling deeply, in preparation to Going Forth And Sinning No More.

The Object Lessons taught by the Theranos Troubles, to us in healthcare tech, continue.

WSJTheranos Hires Compliance, Regulatory Executives  (more…)