Pathologist Kingshuk Das, MD, tells jurors he voided 50,000 to 60,000 blood-tests from a two-year period due to unreliable results
As the prosecution in the criminal fraud trial of ex-CEO Elizabeth Holmes closes in on resting its case, a fourth and final former Theranos laboratory director took the stand to describe the problems he encountered when overseeing the startup’s medical laboratory operations.
Los Angeles, Calif., board-certified clinical pathologist Kingshuk Das, MD, testified that he reported directly to Holmes and repeatedly warned her about problems and errors with the company’s Edison blood-testing technology, CNBC reported. While describing the proprietary technology’s reliability issues, Das spoke of one conversation with Holmes in which he pointed out that female patients were receiving test results showing abnormal levels of prostate-specific antigen, or PSA, which typically is associated with the male prostate gland.
“Females should generally not have PSA detectable,” Das said during testimony. He “recalled that Holmes offered an alternate explanation, citing ‘an article or two’ claiming rare breast cancers might cause PSA results in women,” CNBC reported.
Assistant US Attorney Robert Leach, JD then asked Das, “Was that explanation satisfying to you?”
“It seemed implausible,” Das replied.
According to CNBC, Das—who worked at Theranos from March 2016 until June 2018—testified that he “voided every test on the Edison devices from 2014 and 2015” and that he had “explained to Holmes that ‘these instruments were not performing from the very beginning.’
During his testimony, Das explained, “I tried to present it in a more understandable format. I recall [Holmes] offering an alternative explanation,” CNBC reported.
Das testified that “Holmes told him it wasn’t an instrument failure but rather a quality control and quality assurance issue,” CNBC reported.
According to The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), corrected reports were issued to doctors for an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 voided results.
CMS Audit: Theranos Lab Posed ‘Immediate Jeopardy to Patient Health and Safety’
Das said his first task at Theranos was responding to a letter of proposed sanctions following a 121-page deficiencies report from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). CMS had audited Theranos’ lab in the fall of 2015 prior to Das’ hiring.
The CMS report stated, “As a result of the survey, it was determined that your facility is not in compliance with all of the conditions required for certification in the CLIA program. … The deficient practices of the laboratory pose immediate jeopardy to patient health and safety,” CNBC reported.
Dark Daily covered these actions by CMS in “CMS Notifies Theranos of CLIA Sanctions That Include Revoking Clinical Laboratory’s CLIA License and a Two-Year Ban on Holmes, Balwani, and Dhawan.”
Testimony of Four Former Theranos Lab Directors
Das is the fourth Theranos laboratory director to take the stand. He joined the startup in 2016 and was laid off in 2018.
Previous reporting in Dark Daily and our sister publication The Dark Report covered court testimony from the three lab directors who preceded Das (click on names to be taken to those stories):
- Lynette Sawyer, DPH, who told jurors she never set foot inside Theranos’ lab while serving as co-director;
- Sunil Dhawan, MD, who was former Theranos Chief Operating Officer Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani’s personal dermatologist, and who while Theranos’ lab director worked a total of five to 10 hours and only went to the lab twice; and,
- Adam Rosendorff, MD, PhD, a board-certified pathologist, who previously testified he quit Theranos because the technology did not work, CNBC reported.
Rosendorff provided some of the trial’s most explosive news when it was revealed that he was the whistleblower behind The Wall Street Journal’s exposé into Theranos that first raised questions about the startup’s technology and operations.
Defense Claims Holmes Did Not Intentionally Mislead Investors
As noted in The Verge, Holmes’ defense strategy centers on convincing jurors she did not intentionally mislead investors, patients, physicians, and clinical laboratories about Theranos’ proprietary technology, but that she simply failed to achieve the goals she set for Theranos.
“Trying your hardest and coming up short is not a crime,” defense lawyer Lance Wade, JD, told jurors in his opening statement, The Verge reported. “And by the time this trial is over, you will see that the villain the government just presented is actually a living, breathing human being who did her very best each and every day. And she is innocent,” Wade added.
While Holmes is not expected to take the stand in her own defense, prosecutors used her own words against her last month when they played audiotapes for the jury of telephone calls Holmes made to investors in 2013. According to KRON4-TV in San Francisco, Holmes told investors Theranos’ revenues would reach $140 million in revenue in 2014, though the company had not recorded any revenue the two prior years.
“It’s very powerful testimony when you can use the defendant’s own words, and these audiotapes can incriminate her,” Hagan said.
Holmes, 37, faces maximum penalties of 20 years in prison and a $2.75 million fine if convicted of two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and 10 counts of fraud, plus possible restitution, the Department of Justice has said. Balwani’s criminal fraud trial is scheduled to begin in January 2022.
With the prosecution just inches away from resting its case, clinical laboratory managers and pathologists will not have to wait long to learn if Holmes’ defense team mounts a defense against fraud charges or allows the case to be turned over to the jury.
—Andrea Downing Peck