As a Theranos insider and whistleblower, Tyler Schultz was able to provide information about the ongoing failures in medical laboratory testing at the once-high-flying Theranos to regulators and at least one journalist
What’s it like to be a whistleblower in a high-profile clinical laboratory? Few clinical laboratory workers will ever know. But former Theranos employee Tyler Shultz does know, after helping to expose the Silicon Valley blood-testing startup’s deceptions.
The 31-year-old Shultz reportedly celebrated the news of former Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes’ conviction on four charges of defrauding investors with champagne, joy, and a healthy dose of vindication, according to NPR.
Shultz Interns Briefly at Theranos
In 2011, Shultz was a biology major at Stanford University—where Elizabeth Holmes herself briefly attended—when his grandfather, former US Secretary of State George Shultz, a Theranos board member, introduced him to Holmes.
According to NPR, the younger Shultz was so impressed by the charismatic Holmes that he asked her if he could intern with Theranos after his junior year. Following his internship, he accepted a full-time position as a research engineer with Theranos, a stint that lasted only eight months. Shultz quit Theranos the day after he emailed Holmes in 2014 to alert her to failed quality-control checks and other troubling practices within the company’s clinical laboratory.
According a 2016 profile of Shultz in The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), his email to Holmes resulted in a “blistering” reply from then-Theranos President and COO Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani, who “belittled Shultz’s grasp of basic mathematics and his knowledge of laboratory science.”
Yet, Shultz told NPR, “It was clear that there was an open secret within Theranos that this technology simply didn’t exist.”
After leaving Theranos, Shultz became a key source for the WSJ’s 2015 exposé of Theranos. Using an alias, he also contacted state regulators in New York about the Theranos Edison blood-testing device’s shortcomings. In response, Theranos responded with threats of lawsuits and intimidation, the WSJ reported.
In an interview with CBS News, Shultz said, “I am happy that she was found guilty of these crimes and I feel like I got my vindication from that, and I feel good about that.”
Whistleblowers Were Critical to WSJ’s Investigation
Former WSJ reporter John Carreyrou, who authored the newspaper’s investigative series into Theranos, credits the Theranos whistleblowers for blowing the cover on the clinical lab company’s deceptions.
“I would not have been able to break this story without Rosendorff, Tyler, and Erika,” Carreyrou told NPR, referring to Shultz and two additional Theranos whistleblowers: one-time Theranos Laboratory Director Adam Rosendorff and laboratory associate Erika Cheung. “Tyler and Erika were corroborating sources, and that was absolutely critical.”
Dark Daily reported on trial testimony given by four former Theranos clinical laboratory directors in “Another Former Theranos Clinical Laboratory Director Testifies in Holmes’ Fraud Trial about Irregularities with Proprietary Edison Blood-Testing Technology.”
In the interview with CBS News, Tyler described the damage his role as a Theranos whistleblower caused to his relationship with his grandfather, former Secretary of State and Theranos board member George Shultz. Tyler said the elder Shultz did not believe his claims about Theranos’ regulatory deficiencies and the Edison device’s shortcomings until he neared the end of his life.
“That was extremely tough. This whole saga has taken a financial, emotional, and social toll on my relationships. The toll it took on my grandfather’s relationship was probably the worst. It is tough to explain. I had a few very honest conversations with him,” Shultz told CBS News.
While the elder Shultz never apologized to his grandson, Tyler said his grandfather ultimately acknowledged he was right.
“In one of my last conversations with him he told me a story about how he got Elizabeth invited during fleet week in San Francisco to go give a speech to United States Navy sailors. He said with tears in her eyes, she told the room about how she was so honored and humbled that her life’s work would be saving the lives of United States servicemen and women,” Shultz recalled in the CBS News interview.
“He said he could not believe that anybody could get in front of these men and women who are willing to put their lives in front of our country and lie directly to their face as convincingly as she lied,” he added.
George Shultz died in February 2021.
Jury’s Ruling on Defrauding Patients
In an interview with CNBC, Shultz said his one disappointment with the verdict was that Holmes was not found guilty of defrauding patients. Calling the patients “the real victims,” Shultz said, “I did what I did. I stuck my neck out to protect those patients, not to protect Betsy DeVos’ $100 million investment.” (The jury voted Holmes guilty on three counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit fraud against Theranos’ investors, but not guilty on conspiracy to defraud and commit wire fraud against Theranos patients.)
Tyler Shultz was listed as a potential witness in the Holmes trial but was not called to take the stand. He—along with many clinical laboratory directors and pathologists who have closely followed the Holmes trial—will now await news of Holmes’ sentencing. Holmes could face up to 20 years in prison for each guilty verdict, but she’s likely to receive a lighter sentence.
The trail of Ramesh Balwani is expected to begin sometime in March. That trial can be expected to produce additional revelations about the problems of Theranos and how and why management is alleged to have knowingly reported inaccurate clinical laboratory test results to thousands of patients.
—Andrea Downing Peck