The founder of Theranos courted supporters of a “parallel universe”


SAN JOSE: To critics outside the orbit of fallen American biotech star Elizabeth Holmes, her promises of a medical revolution reeked of quackery. But the faith of those close to him – from a future Pentagon chief to a laboratory scientist – was very real.

“I thought it would be the next Apple,” Adam Rosendorff, former lab chief at Theranos, the now-defunct Holmes blood testing start-up, said in his Silicon Valley fraud trial on Friday. September 24.

As the third week of his lawsuits wrapped up in a court in San Jose, Calif., Jurors have now repeatedly heard for themselves how Holmes’ presence and his qualities as a seller of a miraculous idea turned out. too attractive to his believers.

Now she faces decades in prison if convicted of defrauding investors with machines that didn’t work, but in 2003, at age 19, Holmes founded Theranos with the promise of a bewildering array of ‘analyzes on a few drops of blood.

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For Jim Mattis, who would serve as US Secretary of Defense from 2017 to 2019, the idea of ​​rapid and accurate testing resonated because they could save the lives of US troops fighting in the Middle East.

“It was something so new, I was frankly amazed at what was possible, based on what Miss Holmes said,” Mattis told the jury on Thursday, saying he had met her afterwards. a speech from 2011.

“It was pretty mind-blowing what she was doing,” he added.

He invested US $ 85,000 of his own money and accepted his offer to join the board of directors of the company.


For biotech experts, the star-spangled list of funders, including Henry Kissinger and Rupert Murdoch, and dedication to unproven technology was puzzling.

“What was extraordinary about watching this story is that it seemed to take place in this parallel universe where influential and successful people who had no background in the industry were increasingly enrolling.” said Jenny Rooke, biotech investor and founder of Genoa Ventures, with a doctorate in genetics.

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Silicon Valley reporter Kara Swisher was sharper in a New York Times opinion piece: “I’ve been the victim of a lot of stupid hype from entrepreneurs over the years, but Holmes seemed to push the lie a step further. “

Of course, the whole business and its multibillion-dollar valuation would collapse after a damning series of 2015 articles in the Wall Street Journal by John Carreyrou.

Yet before that, Holmes had wowed people with his presentations – Mattis called him “sharp, articulate, engaged”.

She was also familiar with the symbolism of Silicon Valley, wearing a black turtleneck that embodied the signature look of Apple founder and tech legend Steve Jobs.

Holmes was also known for her clinical manner and intense, uninterrupted eye contact which Carreyou, the journalist for the Journal, described in her book on Theranos as “almost hypnotic”.

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“The way she stared her big blue eyes on you without blinking made you feel like the center of the world,” he wrote.

As problems escalated with the Theranos test equipment and staff began to urge her to delay the launch of the machines, the facade began to crack.

“She was very nervous. She was not her usual controlled self. She was shaking a bit. She seemed nervous and upset,” Rosendorff, Theranos’ former lab chief, testified.

He eventually left the company, disillusioned and believing that Theranos cared more about public relations than the patients.

“I really bought into the idea of ​​lab tests being done from a very small sample of pin pricks,” he told the court. “I thought Theranos had cutting edge technology.”


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