At the Theranos trial, more fascination than biotechnology

The diagnostics revolution promised by Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of Theranos, has never convinced industry experts, but it has won over many, from Silicon Valley to the top of the military, who now find themselves testifying in the trial of the fallen star of biotechnology.

“I thought it would be the next Apple,” summed up Friday before jurors Adam Rosendorff, who was once the director of the company’s laboratory.

Theranos planned to produce diagnostic tools faster and cheaper than traditional labs. New methods were to make it possible to carry out hundreds of analyzes from a few drops of blood.

But the machines haven’t worked, and charismatic Elizabeth Holmes faces jail for fraud.

“It was so new, I was really in awe of what Miss Holmes was saying,” former US Defense Minister Jim Mattis, who was in command of the US military in the Middle East, said on Wednesday when he met the ex-boss, in 2011.

The dream sold by Theranos interested the general to respond to crisis situations, when it is necessary to quickly diagnose many wounded in war zones.

– “Surrealist” –

Jim Mattis therefore invested nearly $ 85,000 in the start-up, on a personal basis. And he agreed to join the company’s board of directors in 2013, where he remained until 2016, a year after shocking revelations in the Wall Street Journal.

He assured the court that he insisted on the need to have Theranos’ technology tested by independent entities.

But when the scandal broke, he thought it was a communication problem or even an “aggressive journalist”. “When I think about it today, I’m disappointed by the lack of transparency,” he said.

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Other personalities have been seduced by Elizabeth Holmes, who founded Theranos in 2003, at the age of 19.

Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, another ex-member of Theranos’ board of directors, and media mogul Rupert Murdoch, who had invested in the start-up, are on the list of potential witnesses to the trial. -River.

The rise of the company “seemed to be playing out in a parallel universe where more and more influential people, who lacked technical background, joined the adventure”, recalls Jenny Rooke, founder of Genoa Ventures, which invests in particular in diagnostic solutions.

“No one in our industry has ever considered (Theranos) to be part of our industry,” she added. “It was surreal”.

– “Nervous” –

“I’ve faced a lot of ridiculous hype from various entrepreneurs over the years, but Holmes seemed to take the dishonesty even further,” New York Times reporter Kara Swisher wrote in a column.

In 2014, the fortune of the leader was valued at $ 3.6 billion by Forbes. She was then the youngest billionaire who did not inherit her fortune.

Renowned for her steely gaze and deliberate manners, she regularly wore a black turtleneck sweater… Like Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, her idol.

She was “smart, articulate, determined,” said Jim Mattis.

When technical problems accumulated, and some employees tried to plead for additional delays, the facade cracked.

“She was very nervous. She was not controlling herself as well as usual. She was shaking a little, ”said Adam Rosendorff, about an interview with his ex-boss, a few days before a commercial launch.

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“For testing issues, she told me that we could always use conventional instruments, approved by the authorities, instead of Theranos devices,” he said.

The employee ended up leaving the start-up, believing that management “was more concerned with raising funds than taking care of patients”.

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