[Issue 082] Risking lives for innovation
Have you been following the Theranos saga?
I read the book Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup right when it came out and have recently been listening to the podcast The Dropout about it. Last night I even paid for a month of HBO just so I could watch the documentary that was released on Monday, The Inventor. (Of the three, the book is the most engaging and informative IMO.)
The whole thing is just so fascinating to me!
For anyone who hasn't been following the story, here's what you should know (everyone else can skip ahead):
A then 19 year-old woman named Elizabeth Holmes started a company called Theranos with the goal of making blood testing easier and more accessible by creating a machine that only required a single drop of blood.
She raised hundreds of millions of dollars and convinced REALLY high profile people (including former Secretary of Defense James Mattis and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger) to join her board.
She deceived people, including corporate partners and regulators, and it later came out that the machine never actually worked at all.
The company has since shut down and there have been multiple lawsuits. The Securities and Exchange Commission has barred her from serving as an officer or director of any public company for 10 years.
She is now awaiting trial, facing charges that could put her in jail for up to 20 years.
The dominant narrative about all of this is focused on Elizabeth's zealot-like behavior in pursuit of her mission and the resulting fallout with employees and investors. But none of this is odd to me in Silicon Valley, where people (read: usually white men) are given millions of dollars all the time for seemingly crazy ideas.
In sum, the tech world is full of scammers, and I love a good scam story.
The problem is: this scam was very dangerous. Elizabeth Holmes was playing with people's lives.
This excerpt from Bad Blood says it best:
Hyping your product to get funding while concealing your true progress and hoping that reality will eventually catch up to the hype continues to be tolerated in the tech industry. But it’s crucial to bear in mind that Theranos wasn’t a tech company in the traditional sense. It was first and foremost a health-care company. Its product wasn’t software but a medical device that analyzed people’s blood. As Holmes herself liked to point out in media interviews and public appearances at the height of her fame, doctors base 70 percent of their treatment decisions on lab results. They rely on lab equipment to work as advertised. Otherwise, patient health is jeopardized.
Yet, this seems to be the part of the story that gets the least amount of attention. This USA Today article from July 2018 is the best one I could find focusing on the impact on patients' lives.
Here are just a few examples:
One woman was inaccurately diagnosed with a thyroid condition, leading her to make unnecessary medical appointments and take medication she didn’t need.
Another woman was inaccurately diagnosed with an autoimmune disease.
Another had heart surgery, visited a Theranos clinic five times to monitor the results of blood-thinning drug warfarin and was switched to a different drug. He had to have a second heart surgery to drain blood and believes more accurate test results could have averted the follow-up operation.
While it will never make up for the harm done, thankfully Arizona's Attorney General did negotiate a consumer-fraud settlement to refund $4.65 million to consumers who purchased Theranos blood tests.
This story is far from over, and I'll be watching it closely. She is set to appear in court for a hearing on April 22nd.
Hit reply and let me know what you think of this whole saga.
Napa Valley’s first and only black-owned estate winery, Brown Estates, recently became a partner with Delta Airlines. The featured wines, Brown Estate's 2017 Betelgeuse Sauvignon Blanc and 2017 Chaos Theory red blend, will be featured on the domestic Delta One wine menus for the winter 2019-2020 rotation. It's a remarkable achievement, especially given that less than 5% of wineries in the U.S. are Black-owned.
The most interesting part of the story to me, however, is that the idea came from a woman named Carlyne Scott, who is a member of Delta's black community business resource group.
Read more here. Also, if you love Napa as much as I do, I highly recommend visiting their tasting room!
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The headlines were curated with the help of ABL's badass intern, Lora.
“I don’t know.”
- Elizabeth Holmes, over 600x in her deposition
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