Unspinning the Theranos scientific advisory board communications spin

click to enlargeSpinning oh so flatly…..As reported in MedCityNews (and here) yesterday, Theranos has made a Radio City Rockettes-showy move in opening at least part of its scientific books to a prestigious group of eight academic researchers from top-flight institutions. The Theranos press release is a masterpiece of positive spin to counter the negative results of the CMS report released last Thursday. However, when the fine-spun web is picked apart by Matthew Herper, a staff reporter for Forbes, it embarrassingly falls apart. The clues are all there, of course, in the elided language, the lack of specificity on numbers, the over-the-top quotes from the CEO and one of the advisory board members….

Upon interviewing three members of the scientific and medical advisory board, the glowing statement of Dr Helfet–who had been a co-chair of Theranos’ existing scientific board–was revealed as not quite accurate in the impression it gave.

  • The full advisory board has not met as a group yet. The impression was given in the release that they did.
  • They were split into three groups, each spending about a day at the Palo Alto HQ “viewing data shown to them by the company about its blood tests, examining Theranos’ Edison machines, and asking questions”. They did not visit any working labs, including the two under CMS fire.
  • Drs Ladenson and Spitalnik thought that what they saw looked “promising” and “intriguing” but would not answer questions on whether Theranos’ devices were ready to be used. Eight hours for Dr Spitalnik was, as he stated, was enough to whet the appetite, but not more than that.

It remains that Theranos has not published one peer-reviewed study, despite promises, promises. The company leadership took in a lot of investor money, gained a $9 billion valuation, got Safeway and Walgreens as partners (now rescinded)–never proving that Theranos’ tests would do what they said they would do. Besides being the bottom line and the one proposition that must be proved, they potentially endangered trusting patients in Arizona and California. And gave a black eye and probably a broken nose to innovation in and consumer access to lab testing.

At least the Yak-52 aerobatic aircraft and its pilot are in a planned, recoverable flat spin. Nothing about Theranos’ spin can be. Forbes

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Comments

  1. Susanne Woodman

    ‘Elizabeth Holmes’s Theranos under fire’ –
    Theranos is part of a long history of “medical hucksterism” in the US, where people are always looking for “hope in a bottle”, says Jeff Sonnenfeld
    http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/71523196-fc45-11e5-b5f5-070dca6d0a0d.html
    The FT article points out that, even if the blood testing method did work as claimed, simple blood testing is unlikely at present to provide accurate alerts of cancer and other diseases – their blood signatures cannot yet be reliably defined, e.g. some people with low PSA scores do have prostate cancer.

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