SAN JOSE, Calif .– A key whistleblower against Theranos, the blood testing startup that collapsed in scandal in 2018, testified in the fraud trial of company founder Elizabeth Holmes on Tuesday.
Whistleblower Erika Cheung worked as a lab assistant at Theranos for six months in 2013 and 2014 before reporting lab testing issues at the company to federal agents at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services in 2015. Her first day testimony revealed to a jury what those who follow the Theranos saga likely already knew: The company’s famous blood test technology didn’t work.
In a crowded courtroom, Ms Cheung said she had turned down other job offers outside of college to join Theranos because she was overwhelmed by Ms Holmes’ charisma and inspired by her success as a woman in the field of technology. Ms Holmes said Theranos’ machines, called the Edison, would be able to quickly and inexpensively discern whether people had a variety of health issues using just a few drops of blood.
“She was very articulate and had a strong sense of conviction about her mission,” Ms. Cheung said of Ms. Holmes.
But Ms Cheung’s excitement faded after witnessing actions she disagreed with in Theranos’ lab, she said. In some cases, the aberrant blood test results have been suppressed to ensure that Theranos’ technology has passed quality control testing. Ms Cheung was also alarmed when she donated her own blood to Theranos and tests on the company’s machines revealed that she had vitamin D deficiency, but traditional tests did not, he said. she declared.
Ms Cheung, who viewed a menu of around 90 blood tests offered by Theranos, said that despite Ms Holmes’ promises of the Edison machines, they could only process a handful of the tests listed. The rest had to be done by traditional blood analyzers or sent to a diagnostic company, she said.
In the end, Ms Cheung resigned due to her doubts about Theranos’ testing services.
“I was uncomfortable processing patient samples,” she said. “I didn’t think the technology we were using was adequate enough to adopt this behavior.”
During Ms Cheung’s testimony, Ms Holmes’ attorneys objected to a wide variety of emails and other internal communications presented by the prosecution as evidence. The two sides argued over the rules of arguments that could be used and the relevance of Ms. Cheung’s testimony.
“The CEO is not responsible for all communications that occur within a company,” said Lance Wade, an attorney representing Ms. Holmes.
John Bostic, U.S. Attorney and Deputy District Attorney, argued that documents showing Theranos ‘internal issues were relevant to the case, whether Ms. Holmes’ name was on it or not.
Mr Wade countered that Ms Cheung had been a rookie employee and had hardly interacted with Ms Holmes.
“To our knowledge, the interview you just heard was the longest conversation she has ever had with our client,” he said.
All the while, Ms Holmes sat quietly in a gray blazer and black dress, watching the proceedings behind a medical mask.
Ms Cheung’s 2015 letter to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services outlining problems with Theranos testing sparked a surprise inspection from the agency that led the company to shut down its labs. Tyler Shultz, another young worker at Theranos’ lab, also shared details of the lab issues with the Wall Street Journal, which released revelations about the company. Mr. Shultz is also listed as a potential witness at the trial. (An earlier version of this article misspelled his name like Schultz.)
Since her role in Theranos’ demise, Ms. Cheung has become an advocate for ethics in technology. She gave a TED talk on speaking the truth to power and helped found Ethics in Entrepreneurship, a non-profit organization that offers ethics training and workshops to founders, workers and investors of start-ups. up.