How Elizabeth Holmes's House of Cards Came Tumbling Down
Marlene Breverman stashed this in Theranos
During the two days in the war room, according to numerous insiders, Holmes heard various response strategies. The most cogent suggestion advocated enlisting members of the scientific community to publicly defend Theranos—its name an amalgam of “therapy” and “diagnosis.” But no scientist could credibly vouch for Theranos. Under Holmes’s direction, the secretive company had barred other scientists from writing peer-review papers on its technology.
One of Holmes’s first major hires, thanks to an introduction by Channing Robertson, was Ian Gibbons, an accomplished British scientist who had a slew of degrees from Cambridge University and had spent 30 years working on diagnostic and therapeutic products. Gibbons was tall and handsome, with straight reddish-brown hair and blue eyes. He had never owned a pair of jeans and spoke with a British accent that was a combination of colloquial and posh. In 2005, Holmes named him chief scientist.
Gibbons, who was diagnosed with cancer shortly after joining the company, encountered a host of issues with the science at Theranos, but the most glaring was simple: the results were off. This conclusion soon led Gibbons to realize that Holmes’s invention was more of an idea than a reality. Still, bound by the scientific method, Gibbons wanted to try every possible direction and exhaust every option. So, for years, while Holmes put her fund-raising talents to use—hiring hundreds of marketers, salespeople, communications specialists, and even the Oscar-winning filmmaker Errol Morris, who was commissioned to make short industrial documentaries—Gibbons would wake early, walk his dogs along a trail near his home, and then set off for the office before seven A.M. In his downtime, he would read I, Claudius, a novel about a man who plays dumb to unwittingly become the most powerful person on earth.
While Gibbons grew ever more desperate to come up with a solution to the inaccuracies of the blood-testing technology, Holmes presented her company to more investors, and even potential partners, as if it had a working, fully realized product. Holmes adorned her headquarters and Web site with slogans claiming, “One tiny drop changes everything,” and “All the same tests. One tiny sample,” and went into media overdrive. She also proved an effective crisis manager. In 2012, for instance, Holmes began talking to the Department of Defense about using Theranos’s technology on the battlefield in Afghanistan. But specialists at the D.O.D. soon uncovered that the technology wasn’t entirely accurate, and that it had not been vetted by the Food and Drug Administration. When the department notified the F.D.A. that something was amiss, according to The Washington Post, Holmes contacted Marine general James Mattis, who had initiated the pilot program. He immediately e-mailed his colleagues about moving the project forward. Mattis was later added to the company board when he retired from the service. (Mattis says he never tried to interfere with the F.D.A. but rather was “interested in rapidly having the company’s technologies tested legally and ethically.”)
So she was great at fundraising but they could not make the science work?