Former Theranos Lab Director and Staff Testify in Ongoing Elizabeth Holmes Fraud Trial That They Voiced Concerns about Reliability and Accuracy of Edison Blood-Testing Device
Four-star general Jim Mattis testified that he eventually “didn’t know what to believe about Theranos anymore,” The Wall Street Journal reported
Former-Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes was known for her obsession with Steve Jobs, imitating not only the late Apple CEO’s well-known management style, but also his wardrobe choices. However, clinical laboratory managers and pathologists will not be surprised to learn that—in testimony during Holmes’ federal fraud trial—Theranos’ former laboratory director told jurors Holmes’ “confident demeanor” disappeared when she was told her revolutionary blood-testing technology “didn’t work,” KPIX5 TV reported.
During two days of testimony in San Jose, Calif., pathologist Adam Rosendorff, MD, told jurors that in the days leading up to the 2013 launch of the Edison blood-testing device he warned Holmes in emails and in person that the product wasn’t ready to be deployed commercially.
“I told her that the potassium was unreliable, the sodium was unreliable, the glucose was unreliable, [and] explained why,” testified the clinical pathologist. “She was very nervous. She was not her usual composed self. She was trembling a bit, her knee was tapping, her voice was breaking up. She was clearly upset,” he added.
KPIX5 TV reported that Holmes had told Rosendorff the laboratory could substitute conventional federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved devices as needed.
Rosendorff left his position with Theranos in November 2014. According to KPIX5, he told jurors, “I felt pressured to vouch for [medical laboratory] tests that I did not have confidence in. I came to believe that the company believed more about PR and fundraising than about patient care. The platform was not allowing me to function effectively as a lab director.”
In continuing testimony, Rosendorff acknowledged that tension increased between himself and Holmes and Theranos’ Chief Operating Officer Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani over Rosendorff’s concerns about the reliability and accuracy of the lab’s test results. At one point, he asked Balwani in an email if his name could be removed from the Theranos CLIA lab license so he would not be legally responsible for the lab’s problems.
Balwani’s own fraud trial begins in January 2022.
Former Theranos Lab Director Considered Filing a Qui Tam Lawsuit
According to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), Rosendorff testified he forwarded work emails to his personal email account to protect himself in case the federal government investigated Theranos. He also considered filing a whistleblower lawsuit against the company.
“I wanted to get the word out about what was happening at Theranos,” he testified, the Wall Street Journal reported.
The government’s first witnesses were former Theranos employees:
- controller So Han Spivey, also known as Danise Spivey (Yam);
- whistleblower Erika Cheung, a former Theranos lab associate; and
- senior scientist Surekha Gangakhedkar.
Gangakehedkar testified that Holmes knew about reliability issues with the Edison blood-testing device, yet pressured staff to move forward with the Walgreens roll out.
Theranos’ partnership with Walgreens ended in 2016, after Theranos voided years of test results performed on its machines.
In “Former Theranos Chemist Says Elizabeth Holmes Was Aware of Testing Failures,” the WSJ reported that Gangakhedkar resigned from Theranos in September 2013, taking with her Theranos documents and copies of emails in which she expressed her concerns to Holmes and others about continuing problems with Theranos’ lab tests.
“I was scared that things would not go well,” Gangakhedkar testified, her voice breaking at one point. “I was afraid I would be blamed.”
As foreshadowed during the trial’s opening statements, Holmes’ defense team plans to argue that their client did not intend to defraud investors but believed her blood-testing technology—portrayed as capable of running more than 200 tests using a finger-stick sample of blood—would revolutionize the healthcare industry.
In his opening remarks to the jury, Lance Wade, JD, a member of the Holmes defense team from Williams and Connolly LLP, told jurors that evidence will show Theranos investors were “incredibly sophisticated and knew the risks” and were actually pushing to invest in Theranos. The reality of the case, he said, is “far more human and real, and oftentimes, I hate to say it, technical and complicated and boring” than what the federal government has suggested, Forbes reported.
Four-star General Jim Mattis (ret.) Testifies
According to the Wall Street Journal, former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis testified he joined the Theranos board in the summer of 2013, at which time he invested $85,000 in the company. He said he had first met Holmes in San Francisco in 2011. At the time, Mattis, a Marine Corps four-star general, was leading the US military’s Central Command (CENTCOM) and that, according to testimony, he recognized the Edison device’s potential for use on the battlefield.
Mattis testified he and other Theranos board members were surprised to learn in 2015 that Theranos was using blooding testing equipment from competing companies.
“There came a time when I didn’t know what to believe about Theranos anymore,” he told jurors, according to the WSJ. Mattis resigned from the board in 2016, after learning he would be nominated as Secretary of Defense in the Trump administration.
Theranos, which reached a peak valuation of $9 billion, received nearly $1 billion in funding from private investors, including from some well-known people. In “Theranos Trial Jurors to Weigh Whether Investors Were Dupes or Savvy Speculators,” according to the WSJ, the startup’s top investors included:
- The Walton family—$150 million—heirs to the Walmart fortune;
- Fox News Corp Executive Chairman Rupert Murdoch—$125 million—who sold his shares back to the company in 2017 for $1;
- Former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and her family—$100 million;
- The Cox family, owner of Atlanta-based media and automotive company Cox Enterprises—$100 million;
- Media investor Carlos Slim—$30 million;
- Greek shipping magnate Andreas Dracopoulos—$25 million;
- The Oppenheimer family—$20 million;
- Riley Bechtel, former Chairman of Bechtel Corp.—$6 million;
- Estate attorney Daniel L. Mosley—$6 million; and
- New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft—$1 million.
As Holmes’ fraud trial heats up, Dark Daily will continue its coverage. In “Text Messages Between Theranos Founder Elizabeth Holmes and Ex-Boyfriend Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani Grab Headlines in Early Days of Fraud Trial,” we reported that Holmes’ defense team revealed plans to claim “intimate partner abuse” by Holmes’ then boyfriend, Theranos Chief Operating Officer Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani.
And in “On-demand Video Service Hulu Gets Underway on TV Miniseries Documenting Rise and Fall of Former Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes,” we covered Hulu’s plan to produce the “The Dropout,” a limited series chronicling Holmes’ rise and fall from Founder and CEO of $9 billion tech company Theranos to criminal defendant.
The trial is expected to last until mid-December, with jurors hearing testimony on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. For clinical laboratory scientists, each day of testimony should bring a new round of surprises so stay tuned.
—Andrea Downing Peck