The trial of Elizabeth Holmes, former Chief Executive of medical company, Theranos, continued this week with testimony from a former employee, Erika Cheung. Holmes and former Theranos COO, Ramesh Balwani, are charged with two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and nine counts of wire fraud.
According to the indictment, the charges stem from allegations that Ms Holmes and Mr Balwani started a multi-million-dollar scheme to defraud investors, and a separate scheme to defraud doctors and patients. The eagerly anticipated trial is set to continue until December and Holmes could spend up to 20 years in prison.
Ms Holmes, who founded Theranos in 2003 aged 19, was dubbed the world's youngest self-made female billionaire for her technology which her company claimed could run tests on a finger prick of blood cheaper and faster than all traditional methods. She dropped out of Stanford where she studied Chemical engineering to pursue this endeavour.
She convinced large firms such as pharmacy giant Walgreens into agreeing testing partnerships, despite being fully aware there was problems with the testing mechanisms. Figures like former US defence secretary James Mattis, Henry Kissinger and Rupert Murdoch were roped in, investing millions in what they assumed would be at the cutting edge of medical technology. Holmes raised a total of 700 million dollars and her net worth rose to 4.5 billion dollars in 2015.
The fame and comparisons to Steve Jobs carried on until, alas, it was discovered the machines behind her financial success did not work. One of the many false claims was that the tests had been vetted by the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and that the technology was being used by the US military.
Last Wednesday former employee of Theranos, Erika Cheung, gave testimony that she grew concerned about the reliability of the machines. The former lab-worker at Theranos stated that she was concerned about the machine failing to pass quality control checks in the research lab and that the company would fix results to make it look as if the machine was working correctly, potentially misleading patients. She left the company and said she received a letter from Theranos’s lawyers, saying they had reason to believe she had shared confidential company information.
The prosecutors in their opening statement outlined how Theranos knowingly misled patients about the tests and greatly exaggerated the firm's performance to financial backers. The defence, meanwhile, claimed “a failed business does not make a CEO a criminal.” The defence went on to state, “by the time this trial is over, you will see that the villain the government just presented is actually a living, breathing human being who did her very best each and every day. And she is innocent.”
Ms Holmes defence is also set to argue Mr Balwani, former COO of Theranos and Holmes’ ex-partner, emotionally and psychologically abused her, which decreased her mental state at the time of the alleged crimes. Mr Balwani has called these claims “outrageous”. He also faces charges for fraud.
Many see the trial as a sad end to Holmes’ career. Once seen as a gifted intellectual and feminist icon, now a disgraced founder of a blood testing start-up. Duping some of the most powerful people in the world, Holmes’ life has now become the subject of numerous books, movies and TV mini-series.