The Theranos Story, ch. 59: there’s life left in the corporate corpse–patents! And no trial date in sight.

You can get blood out of this. Really! The US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) awarded five–count ’em, five!–patents to Theranos in March and April. All of them were filed between 2015 and 2016, when the whispers of fraud were getting louder, as were the legal threats.

The five patents are:

1. Systems, devices, and methods for bodily fluid sample collection, transport, and handling
2. Systems, devices, and methods for bodily fluid sample transport
3. Systems and methods for sample preparation using sonication
4. Systems and methods for sample preparation using sonication (cell disruption)
5. Rapid measurement of formed blood component sedimentation rate from small sample volumes

The CB Insights Research article has the details on what they cover, including patent application illustrations. It’s not stated, but looking back to TTA’s many articles, in this Editor’s judgment, the heir to these patents cannot be Elizabeth Holmes or her many investors now feeling the lint in their pockets, but the company holding the last note, the $65 million (not $100 million) loan from Fortress Investment Group LLC, part of Japan’s SoftBank Group [TTA 28 Dec 17]–collateralized by the portfolio of over 70 patents. Hat tip to HISTalk 19 April

If you hunger for a deep dive into the design of Theranos’ blood analyzers that never really worked, and can appreciate that the miniLab was what “one expert in laboratory medicine called “theater … not science”, this Design World article is for you: Schadenfreude for Theranos — and satisfaction in how engineering doesn’t lie

Meanwhile, back in the US District Court in San Jose, California, we learn that the trial of Ms. Holmes (now engaged to William “Billy” Evans, a 27-year-old heir to the Evans Hotel Group, which has three West Coast resort properties and who is also a techie) and former Theranos president Ramesh ‘Sunny’ Balwani has been delayed indefinitely. Originally reported to be summer entertainment with a start date of 8 July, the judge set the next status conference for the case for 1 July, but refused to set a trial date, which means that the trial may not begin till next year. According to the San Jose Mercury News, the defense is seeking materials from the FDA and CMS, which are, according to defense lawyer, lawyer Kevin Downey, are “in many instances exculpatory.”

Ms. Holmes’ lawyers are also seeking information on the communications between John Carreyrou of the Wall Street Journal, the FDA, and CMS. In a motion filed last week, they accused Mr. Carreyrou under the guise of investigative journalism of “exerting influence on the regulatory process in a way that appears to have warped the agencies’ focus on the company and possibly biased the agencies’ findings against it.” Stat

The bubbly Ms. Holmes and Not-So-Sunny Balwani are facing Federal charges of two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and nine counts of wire fraud. They each face a maximum of 20 years in prison and up to $2.7 million in fines.

The Theranos Story, ch. 57: was it Silicon Valley and Startup Culture bad practices pushed to the max?

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Rock-1-crop-2.jpg” thumb_width=”125″ /]Theranos is now formally in California insolvency proceedings (note on their website). Creditors may have enough awarded to them to go down to the local pizzeria to buy a slice or two. Hard lessons indeed for creditors and shareholders. But aside from the drama yet to come in the trial of Elizabeth Holmes and Sunny now Shady Balwani, a/k/a the Silicon Valley Trial of the Century, are there any further lessons to be learned?

For those of us who have not been closely following The Theranos Story, David Shaywitz’s kind-of-review of John Carreyrou’s Bad Blood coupled with a thought piece in Forbes is especially appealing. Even if you’ve been tracking it closely like your Editor, it’s a good read. He posits that in three key areas, Theranos exhibited Startup Culture and Silicon Valley Ethics (or lack thereof) at the very extreme in these areas:

  • Secrecy: extreme compartmentalization, siloing, stratification, and rigid definition of roles that prevent information sharing. No outsiders in, or peer-reviewed research out.
  • Promises, promises, promises: a rosy picture to the point of delusion that masks real flaws
  • I Want To Believe: for various personal reasons, investors, press, and supports need to believe

Secrecy can and should work for companies in keeping proprietary information and competitive advantage intact. All startup and early-stage companies have to paint a positive picture in the midst of pitched struggle. The glass is always half full not empty even when the bank account is, but when the old ‘fake it till you make it’ becomes too strong, papering over the truth is the thing and the institutional absence of tough self-scrutiny (or a professional kicker-of-holes) prevents companies from fixing obvious problems–you get a delusional organization like Theranos edging gradually, then very quickly, into outright fraud. Finally, Theranos’ supporters had their own reasons for wanting to believe the technology worked. 

He goes on to state that the fraud that Theranos perpetrated was not only financial and in harm to health, but also in the hope that change is possible in healthcare delivery, we can challenge the way it’s always been done and win, and that technology can be empowering.

Will we, as a result, in Mr. Shaywitz’s words, take the ‘hit to hope’ to heart and become ‘excessively chastened and overcautious”? This Editor tends to be on the overcautious side when it comes to technologies such as IoT and AI because the potential for hacking and bad use is proven despite the hype, but far less so in challenging incumbents–even it it resembles tilting at windmills till they buy you.   

Will l’affaire Theranos change the Silicon Valley and Startup Culture for the better? Here is my ‘hit to hope’–that this excessively aggressive, conformist, borderline irresponsible, and secretive culture could change. This Editor doubts it’s even entered their leaders’ ‘deep’ thoughts, despite this best-selling book.

A more typical review of ‘Bad Blood’ is by Eric Topol, MD (!) in Nature–who certainly borrowed ‘The Theranos Story’ from this series of articles!

The Theranos Story, ch. 52: How Elizabeth Holmes became ‘healthcare’s most reviled’–HISTalk’s review of ‘Bad Blood’

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/holmes-barbie-doll-1.jpg” thumb_width=”125″ /]A Must Read, even if you don’t have time for the book. During the brief Independence Day holiday, this Editor caught up with HISTalk’s review of John Carreyrou’s ‘Bad Blood’, his evisceration of the Fraud That Was Theranos and The Utter Fraud That Is Elizabeth Holmes. Even if you’ve read the book, it’s both a lively recounting of how the scam developed and the willingness–nay, eagerness!–of supposedly savvy people and companies to be duped. The reviewer also reveals that Mr. Carreyrou wasn’t the first to raise questions about Theranos after raves in the press and kudos from the prestigious likes of Eric Topol. Mr. Carreyrou’s first article was in October 2015 [TTA 16 Oct 15] whereas Kevin Loria wrote the first exposé in Business Insider on 25 April 15 which raised all the fundamental questions which Theranos spun, hyped, or otherwise ignored–and Mr. Carreyrou eventually answered. (Our blow by blow, from him and other sources, is here.)

The review also picks out from the book the scabrous bits of Ms. Holmes’ delusions; her makeover to become the blond Aryan female Steve Jobs mit Margaret Keane-ish waif eyes–something she took far too literally; the affair between her and Sunny Balwani, certainly in violation of the usual ethics–and her Hitler in the Bunker, April ’45 behavior as Theranos collapsed around her. 

The review concludes by telling the healthcare community something we need said plainly, often, and written in 50-foot letters:

Theranos is a good reminder to healthcare dabblers. Your customer is the patient, not your investors or partners. You can’t just throw product at the wall and see what sticks when your technology is used to diagnose, treat, or manage disease. Your inevitable mistakes could kill someone. Your startup hubris isn’t welcome here and it will be recalled with great glee when you slink away with tail between legs. Have your self-proclaimed innovation and disruption reviewed by someone who knows what they’re talking about before trotting out your hockey-stick growth chart. And investors, company board members, and government officials, you might be the only thing standing between a patient in need and glitzy, profitable technology that might kill them even as a high-powered founder and an army of lawyers try to make you look the other way.

In other words, what you (the innovator, the investor) is holding is not a patient’s watch, it could be his heart, lungs, or pancreas. (Musical interlude: ‘Be Careful, It’s My Heart’)

The Theranos Effect is real in terms of investment in small companies out there on the ‘bleeding edge’. The cooling is mostly salutory, and we’ve been seeing it since late last year (see here). But…will we remember after it wears off, after the fines are collected, the prison time is served?

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. 34: It’s a conspiracy! It’s a vendetta!

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/jacobs-well-texas-woe1.jpg” thumb_width=”150″ /]Updated Well, that is what one of her major investors says, and he would know! Just when we thought that a week would go by with not a peep about Theranos, we get three. Peeps, that is.

First, the Conspiracy Theory. This is being propounded by early Theranos investor Tim Draper of Silicon Valley VC Draper Fisher Jurvetson. It was all John Carreyrou’s ‘strange vendetta’ against her, to wit: “Elizabeth is the victim of a witch hunt.” The Wall Street Journal reporter set off a cascade of press coverage that compelled, nay, forced Federal regulators (FDA, CMS, SEC, DOJ) and state counterparts to go after Theranos and CEO Elizabeth Holmes. Mr Draper bluntly accused Mr Carreyrou of doing it for money; “the guy is getting $4 million to continue this charade”, referring to the advance on his book proposal “Bad Blood”. The most nauseating part of the Ars Technica interview is this mock-libertarian rejoinder from Mr Draper: “It’s the press creating a series of events that negatively impact technology, progress and our economy.”

So it was all a mistake, an illusion–there was nothing significantly wrong with the Edison Lab, or Theranos’ business practices! (Hat tip to Bill Oravecz of Stone Health Innovations)

Mr Draper perhaps did not consider that Mr Carreyrou’s reporting blew up the $100 million investment of the WSJ‘s owner, Rupert Murdoch (Ch. 27), not just DFJ’s. And SafewayWalgreens, Larry Ellison, Cox Enterprises, Bechtel Group….

Second, the belated reporting of deficiencies at the Scottsdale lab found by CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) on 29 September. According to the Wall Street Journal report (co-authored by Mr Carreyrou), “Theranos responded to the inspection findings in Arizona with a plan to correct its lab deficiencies, but the lab regulator in November rejected the plan and proposed sanctions for the Arizona lab as well.”  This preceded the closing of all labs and the ‘refocusing’ of Theranos on the miniLab. Their general counsel stated, “After months of careful consideration, and prior to CMS’s unannounced inspection in Arizona, Theranos decided to close its laboratories.” Usually, these CMS reports are issued after 90 days. Theranos is appealing the sanctions arising from the California lab inspection with an administrative law judge, which include lab license revocation and a two-year ban on Ms Holmes from blood-testing operations.

Third, Theranos announced an eight-person Technology Advisory Board (TAB) to be led by Dr. Channing Robertson and Howie Rosen. The academics, executives, and entrepreneurs will be charged with “reviewing specific Theranos technology initiatives associated with product development, design and deployment” as well as four other mandates. Analogies concerning horses, roads and the status of barn doors come to mind. Release.

And finally another Theranos Washington connection, besides new SecDef and ‘Warrior Monk’ James Mattis, now an alumnus. It seems that the vetting of Betsy DeVos, nominee for Secretary of the Department of Education, uncovered that she has an investment in Theranos of more than $1 million. However, the Office of Government Ethics also reported her whopping earnings of less than $201. Since others like Rupert Murdoch, Bechtel, Walgreens, Cox, and others ponied up $50 to $100 million, hers is a mere bag of shells by comparison. MedCityNews, who has dubbed it the ‘As Theranos Turns’ soap opera. Hat tip to Bill Oravecz of Stone Health Innovations.

See here for the 33 previous TTA chapters in this Continuing, Consistently Amazing Saga, including Arizona’s lawyering up for a prospective Theranos lawsuit (Ch. 33) the firing of 155 remaining staff (Ch. 32), the resignation of now-DOD Secretary General Mattis from the BOD (Ch. 31), and Theranos’ annus horribilis (Ch. 30).

Rock Health announces its Top 50 in digital health (US)

This Editor observes that digital health is at the state of maturity (so to speak) where entities assemble a Top 50 list and host a dinner to pass out awards. Rock Health, Fenwick & West, Goldman Sachs and Square 1 Bank cast a wide net from investment to startups in their just-released list. (Of course there will be a glitzy dinner, soon, at the kickoff of the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference, 9 – 12 January 2017 in San Francisco. Want an invite?)

Of great delight is an award to John Carreyrou of the Wall Street Journal as Reporter of the Year for his investigative work on Theranos. Other highlights are Validic (clinical/wellness data integrator) as Fastest Growing Company, Evolent Health for Best Performing IPO and BSX Technologies‘ LVL hydration monitor as Crowdfunding Hero (having raised $1.1 million when goal was $50,000). Rock Health website

What is increasingly curious to this Editor is that digital health companies, in nearly all cases, aren’t crossing borders and oceans. Every one seems to stick and be unique to its own country of origin, creatures of their own unique petri dish.

Also in other Rock Health news, having evolved a position as a venture fund/business support provider, they have added to their list of prominent partners kidney care and medical group operator DaVita. Rock Health release.