On Monday, Alex Gibney’s documentary on Elizabeth Holmes and her blood-testing company that wasn’t, Theranos, will air on HBO. Gibney’s previous documentary subjects include Enron and Scientology.
“The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley,” addresses the story of how Holmes dropped out of Stanford, founded Theranos to make diagnostic blood tests more accessible, raised enough capital to give the company a $ 9 billion valuation, and saw the company dissolve once John Carreyrou of the Wall Street Journal began reporting on problems with the company’s blood-testing devices.
Theranos and Holmes have become a new reference point in the discussion of Silicon Valley startups trying to hack healthcare. For a while, Theranos had not published any peer-reviewed studies about its technology, a warning sign to scientists. Healthcare startups are still not publishing much peer-reviewed research, but the industry now has to reckon with Theranos’ example.
Holmes certainly had the personal charisma to face down skeptics. As a Forbes journalist, Matthew Herper had doubts about the company and asked hard questions interviewing her onstage at the 2015 Forbes Under 30 Summit. But after the interview he was left, “briefly fantasizing about what it would be like to work at Theranos, something I’ve never done after interviewing a biotech CEO,” he wrote last year.
Before her fall, Holmes was briefly at the very top of Forbes‘ richest self-made women list with a net worth of $ 4.5 billion, based on her 50% stake in Theranos. Just the next year Forbes cut her net worth to zero, after Carreyrou’s reporting made it clear the company’s products fell short of its claims.
Theranos whistleblower Tyler Shultz, onstage at Forbes‘ 2017 Under 30 Summit, said that after he started working at the company it became clear that “everyone kind of knew that this thing didn’t actually live up to what we were claiming.”
“[Holmes] is extremely convincing, really makes you feel she cares so much about you, about helping the world,” Shultz said, “selling her vision all the time.”