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7 Mind-Blowing Moments from HBO's Theranos Documentary

The story of Theranos and its CEO Elizabeth Holmes is wrought with alleged fraud, betrayal, lawsuits, a secret romance, and jumpy houses. Yes, we said jumpy houses. Here are seven times HBO's documentary, The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley blew our minds.

  • Monday night, The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley Premiered on HBO. The documentary chronicles the meteoric rise and terrible fall of Elizabeth Holmes, former CEO of Theranos, a company developing a diagnostic that could test for more than 200 diseases from a drop of blood. Holmes was the definition of a medtech rock star – she was even called the next Steve Jobs (her idol) Here are seven mind-blowing things MD+DI learned from the documentary.

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  • Why Didn’t Anyone Listen to Phyllis Gardner?

    Phyllis Gardner, a professor of Medicine at Stanford, encountered an ambitious Elizabeth Holmes, before Theranos was founded. Often times students with ideas would come to Gardner for advice and to see if their ideas had merit. Gardner promptly explained to Holmes that her idea of a patch that could scan for diseases and deliver antibiotics wasn’t feasible. She tried her best to explain the antibiotics Holmes wanted to use needed to be given at higher doses than a patch could deliver. Gardner said her idea was physically impossible. However, Holmes would not take no for an answer.  Holmes retooled the idea into what we now know as the failed Edison, which was geared toward detecting blood with one drop.

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  •  Hammer Time

    When Theranos gained FDA clearance for its herpes simplex 1 virus test, the company rocked out to MC. Hammer’s You Can’t Touch This.  The group then went outside and played in jumpy houses.  But the celebration was cut short because Walgreens ended their multi-million dollar partnership.

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  • Using Siemens Technology

    All throughout Theranos’ existence the company executives touted how they wanted to change the paradigm of established diagnostic companies. But instead, the company had to rely on Siemens diagnostic tools when the demand for Edison grew at Walgreens. The problem – Theranos executives misrepresented Edison’s effectiveness. The device simply could not do what they claimed it could do and the company had to use an alternative. 

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  • Power Broker Board

    Elizabeth Holmes’ board was a collection of influential and powerful men. It has been reported that there weren’t any women that served on the board. But here some of the notable members. Former Wells Fargo CEO Richard Kovacevich; former Secretary of States George Schultz and Henry Kissinger; Senators Bill Frist and Sam Nunn; former Secretarys of Defense William Perry and James Mattis – yes that James Mattis!

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  • Holmes & Balwani Were Once A Couple

    Elizabeth Holmes was a captivating person, who had a sort of charisma around her that you only see once in a lifetime. She was very secretive regarding her personal life. However, the documentary revealed she was involved with Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani, who joined the company in 2009 and quickly rose to the ranks of COO. The two kept their relationship secret from investors. However their status was revealed during depositions the pair took earlier this year. They even shared a home together for some time. Theranos employees often referred to Balwani as the “Enforcer.”

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  • Patent Lawsuit and Ian Gibbons’ Death

    Perhaps the most tragic part of the documentary was the story of Ian Gibbons. He was hired as Theranos’ chief scientist in 2005. Holmes along with Gibbons were both on key patents of the Theranos technology that were challenged in court. According to the HBO documentary Gibbons was subpoenaed to testify regarding the dispute. A report from ABC News points out that Gibbons was severely conflicted because he faced either perjuring himself and defending the company, or openly admitting the technology didn’t work. A day before he was supposed to give a deposition, Gibbons took a massive overdose of acetaminophen. After Gibbons’ death, his wife said the only response she received from Theranos was for her to return sensitive material Gibbons had in his home regarding the company.

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  • Holmes’ Relationship With Employees

    “Everyone worshipped the ground she walked on, she could do no wrong. She was the next Steve Jobs,” Tyler Shultz, a whistleblower and former employee of company, said during the HBO documentary. But when issues did arise and Engineers came to Holmes to discuss flaws in Edison, they faced redirection. Holmes or either Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani would give them a spiel about how they’re trying to change the world and not address the issues at hand. When things began spiraling out of control and engineers confronted Holmes and Balwani, they would respond with maybe they weren’t made to work in Silicon Valley.  The documentary made it clear that Holmes was not interested in what her employees were telling her about the technology. 

     

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