The Wheels Fall Off For Elizabeth Holmes And Theranos

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It was a feel good story about a young female entrepreneur, but the questions keep piling up and have many wondering….

Holmes founded blood-testing startup Theranos, which has been valued at $9 billion. Now it looks as though the dream might be about to fall apart.

At just 31 years old, Holmes has been named a United States ambassador for global entrepreneurship and is a member of the Board of Fellows of Harvard Medical School. She is on TIME’s list of the 100 Most Influential People in the World this year, and Forbes ranked her No. 121 on its list of the wealthiest Americans, writes James B. Stewart for The New York Times.

Story of Theranos unravels under scientific scrutiny

Holmes followed the current Silicon Valley playbook, coming up with revolutionary, disruptive technology that would allow Theranos to carry out a number of blood tests using just a prick of blood from a finger rather than a needle. However a story from John Carreyrou of The Wall Street Journal revealed that only a few tests were being made from the tiny sample that had excited doctors and investors so much.

Although Theranos has denied the claims, it has acknowledged that most of its tests are made using conventional equipment, just like its competitors Quest Diagnostics and Laboratory Corporation of America Holdings. The FDA has ruled that the company’s tiny blood containers were unapproved medical devices, forcing Theranos to use conventional blood draws.

Proposed blood testing centers in Walgreens stores have been put on hold pending a decision about the technology, which has not been peer reviewed. Despite widespread hype in media and technology circles, doctors are not even sure that the technology is fit for purpose.

Peer review essential for potential future success

Although the ideas could prove revolutionary after further testing, the fact that so many people were hooked by Theranos goes to show the lasting power of a great story. Holmes dropped out of Stanford and then used her entrepreneurial spirit to address her own fear of needles while revolutionizing medical testing, or so it seemed.

She profited from today’s need for a snappy message by selling Theranos and its technology without ever revealing much about the science behind its methods. Pressure to make snap decisions encourages people to believe in an idea that they know little about.

The problem for Holmes is that unlike other disruptive startups, medical technology companies must subject themselves to peer review if they are to be taken seriously by doctors and other scientists. Professor Yeo of the University Chicago claims that many people are willing to test Theranos’ products, if only the company would let them.

It seems unlikely that we have heard the last of Holmes and Theranos, but if the company is to prove its growing army of doubters wrong it needs to submit to peer review.

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