‘Silicon Valley Tech Press’ blamed in the Theranos buildup; WSJ threatened

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Yak_52__G-CBSS_FLAT_SPIN.jpg” thumb_width=”150″ /]A fascinating view from an ironic source. Vanity Fair’s short article tags the buildup of Theranos and its founder/CEO Elizabeth Holmes to a purposefully gullible Silicon Valley Tech Press and their moneymaking conferences. While not naming specific publications, it cites TechCrunch’s Disrupt as an early builder-upper of Ms Holmes (drawing blood onstage, how daring!). The operating thesis here is that the tech press vetted her with uncritical and fawning coverage, which led to profiles and shiny articles in the New York Times, the New Yorker and ….Vanity Fair, which also featured Ms Holmes at their 2015 New Establishment Summit. It’s a classic PR strategy to me, one that any skilled marketer has in their playbook (Ed.–it also works in reverse, having mainstream press vet a technology sold B2B), and one that evidently worked.

One would think that writers and editors with some biotech and science knowledge would raise more questions. The author, Nick Bilton, critically outlines the ‘Game of Access’ underpinning the tech press and blogger business model: you say nice things and play ball, you get a preview of the latest gadget or a sitdown with the CEO. If you don’t, you’re shut out. So writers don’t ask tough questions, probe hard enough, or tell the truth about where the facts are leading them, because if they do, there goes the access and the sponsorships, as well as your job. While the former doesn’t apply to your Editors, many of us who write also hope that we uncover a technology that benefits people, or is even revolutionary. We like a bracing story.

However, Mr Bilton, perhaps mindful of the cart he rode in on, doesn’t scoop an equal share of blame onto the ‘mainstream’ press. To this Editor’s mind, the Ken Auletta profile in the New Yorker should have been stopped by the New Yorker’s EIC and sent back to Mr Auletta with a blue-penciled “DIG DEEPER”. This excerpt is from the VF article:

Auletta acerbically noted that the technology behind Theranos was “treated as a state secret, and Holmes’s description of the process was comically vague.” She told him, for instance, that one process occurred when “a chemistry is performed so that a chemical reaction occurs and generates a signal from the chemical interaction with the sample, which is translated into a result, which is then reviewed by certified laboratory personnel.”

Say wot? Sheer gobbledygook. For the WSJ investigative reporter John Carreyrou, who read this and eventually blew the lid off Theranos, this was caviar on toast too delicious to pass up. (Vanity Fair, on the other hand, was too busy making Ms Holmes one of its New Establishment, but investigative reporting has never been one of their strong points. Another reason why this article is an interesting read.)

A side note: Ms Holmes kept on refusing to disclose, even to VCs, the blood analysis process as a technology too secret to share, even with fellow researchers to get verification and validation. And that led to very few truly major VCs investing in the formerly $9 bn valued company, a point Mr Bilton relishes.

The final revelations in the article–truly the lead–should scare anyone who values a free press. They are the bullying tactics taken by Theranos’ legal team led by that new governing board member, David Boies, to intimidate both Mr Carreyrou and the WSJ from their investigative reporting. Mr Bilton’s source describes the team marching into the WSJ office in June, threatening legal action on the proprietary information Mr Carreyrou supposedly had (he did have internal documents). After repeatedly denying all requests for an interview with Ms Holmes, the WSJ went with the story in October, and the rest is history. Mr Boies now has his hands full elsewhere with other types of letters: CMS, SEC, DOJ and FDA. And Ms Holmes is no longer making herself available to the media, even to her former friends in the tech press. The Secret Culprit in the Theranos Mess

Do startups truly threaten the ‘healthcare establishment’?

Or are successful startups fitting into their game? Chris Seper in MedCityNews paints the picture of one side of a quandary. The ‘healthcare establishment’ fundamentally and to its detriment does not understand and is threatened by the startup and innovation process. A startup may begin with an idea which is, in his words, ‘almost always flawed, sometimes deeply’. If the founders are smart, they will test their ideas, validate them and change them appropriately. If not, they will fail. But it is easier for the Establishment to point at the most egregious of the bad ideas and use them to rationalize the status quo.

But being congenital contrarians, we paint the house on the other side of the street. Has the Establishment caught up with–or in some cases, co-opted startups, making them and their funders ‘do their diligence’ and be more cautious before emerging? This Editor would argue yes, and largely for the better.

**The ‘Wild West’ days are over. A few years ago, a truly bad or deeply flawed health tech idea or could easily find funding, because it was all blank slate, new and ‘transformative’.The sexiest hooks were Quantified Self, sleep, employer health incentives, interactive coaching, genomics, app prescribing and (last) wearables. A lot of founders imagined themselves as the Steve Jobs of Healthcare, down to the black turtleneck. Now there is a history of success and failure. The railroads reached the dusty frontier towns.

**There’s now a ‘Startup Establishment’. National accelerators (more…)

Rock Health opens new HQ to wonder, sums up 2013

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/RockHealth_Photo©BruceDamonte_02.jpg” thumb_width=”175″ /]As seems to be the way in the West Coast Digital Health scene, the opening of accelerator/funder Rock Health’s new HQ in the Mission Bay district of San Francisco gained more heavy-breathing hype than its mostly positive 2013 digital health investment report. The soireé during last week’s JP Morgan Healthcare Conference, glowingly reported in Xconomy with plenty of pics of the achingly trendy interior design and Health Digerati/D3Hers (Digital Health Hypester/Hipster Horde) at play also was a demo of a different type–how insular interests interlock and circle in Fog City. Star guest San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee spearheaded the remaking of the district into a life sciences/tech center; the Xconomy-moderated panel discussion paired him with Rock Health founder/CEO Halle Tecco and Alexandria Real Estate CEO Joel Marcus;  Alexandria underwrites Xconomy and has a huge investment in life sciences real estate; the new Rock Health HQ is on the ground floor of an Alexandria-owned building. Of course Mission Bay is now hyped as the ‘US Digital Health Hub’ for all those Rock Health-accelerated, funded startups. It does give one pause: how much of this is substance, or is it the peak of style before tipping into The Trough of Disillusionment? The tartest takedown on this is courtesy of Neil Versel’s Meaningful HIT News column. Pointed pokes abound: at Silicon Valley for its health tech failures (Google Health among them), the odd duplications (Google-funded telemedicine provider Doctor On Demand sounds like American Well, Ameridoc, etc.) and the even odder lack of considering integration with payer/provider systems and workflows.  Keep wasting your money, Silicon Valley venture capitalists (Note to Neil: the circular swings seem to be a feature of Alexandria’s properties–they’re present at Alexandria Center NYC too. Image © Bruce Damonte/Studios Architecture)

With that aside, the highlights of the Rock Health Digital Health Funding Year In Review were generally positive, but some of them, looked at critically, weren’t, even when depicted in attractive charts and graphs: (more…)

How startups are being damaged by patent trolls–and turning the tables

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/TROLLS-1992-008.jpg” thumb_width=”150″ /]In February and for a few months, this Editor was on a tear about the quaintly dubbed patent trolls–primarily (but not always) non-practicing entities (NPEs) which don’t create or market products, but buy up other people’s/companies’ patents and then seek out opportunities to license them. These NPEs target and challenge vulnerable startups and early-stage companies to defend their patents and systems; the suit for royalties, the financial threat, the papers filed, the attorneys called, the money spent and the eventual settlement (or licensing) is in reality just a form of what’s called in Latin America la mordida. It becomes cheaper to settle than to fight–and the cost can be six or seven figures. 

The shots over the bow were in 2012: Bosch’s February lawsuits against Waldo Health, ExpressMD/Authentidate and MedApps (now Alere Connect) [TTA 16 Feb 2012] and then the strange practice of PHR developer/patent accumulator MMRGlobal [TTA 23 Oct 2012] in sending hundreds, perhaps thousands, of letters out to EHR/EMR users to advise them of possible patent violations and demanding licensing. This Editor observed then and during the spring this year that it was only a matter of time that NPEs would pounce on healthcare tech as investment action accelerated. Yet discussions by this Editor with companies in some public venues indicated a certain level of obliviousness to the threat–that there were not enough assets to go after, thus healthcare startups made poor targets–though side conversations with IP specialist attorneys indicated otherwise.

Well, the trolls have reared their fuzzy heads again, uglier than ever, in this drama-laced article in Wired. (more…)