SAN FRANCISCO — Embattled and innovative bloodwork biotech startup Theranos will step up its transparency in the wake of a slew of negative publicity, company founder Elizabeth Holmes told tech conference attendees Monday.
Holmes, 31, told Fortune editor Alan Murray that, “I think right now we want to try and lead in transparency. There’s no reason we can’t do peer review and publish other statistics.”
When asked what she thought about Walgreens announcing that it was suspending plans for the expansion of Theranos Wellness Centers into new locations, Holmes said, “They haven’t said that to us. We’re talking with them. We completed our rollout with them in Phoenix. They’ve been a great partner with us there.”
The drugstore chain had partnered with Theranos in its initial rollout across dozens of stores in Arizona.
The $9 billion startup came under fire a few weeks ago when the Wall Street Journal published an investigation quoting anonymous former employees who questioned the efficacy and reliability of the company’s proprietary technology. Then the Food and Drug Administration, with which Theranos has been working for the past few years, released documents that showed a list of 14 complaints. These included the as-yet untested nature of the company’s nanotainer, a small vial that holds the drop or two of blood.
Holmes started Theranos while still an undergraduate at Stanford University, and has since raised $400 million and amassed a board of directors that includes former politicians Henry Kissinger and Sam Nunn. Her mission has always been to make blood tests both easier and less expensive, allowing consumers to have access to their changing health patterns in order to preventively monitor any potential illnesses.
Murray admitted that Fortune has been “all-in” on the Theranos story, giving Holmes her first major magazine cover, and wondered if perhaps she had not “hyped” her company too much. (USA TODAY also had among the first profiles of the entrepreneur, which published in the summer 2014 just as Holmes was beginning to go public with her company.) Holmes calmly responded that the issue wasn’t the company’s technology, which has proven itself in a range of in-house blood tests using mere drops of blood run through specialized machines, she said. Rather, the company’s posture with regard to its findings is the issue.
“We’ve concluded we need to do better job of communicating,” she said. “We’ve never talked publicly about what we’re doing with the FDA, (but) we’re incredibly confident in the data we’re submitting to the agency. We’ve done it in the past and we’ll continue to do it in the future. I’ve learned the point about communication.”
Murray asked if Theranos was indeed still worth $9 billion considering its recent setbacks. Said Holmes with a smile: “That’s for investors to decide.”
Follow USA TODAY tech reporter Marco della Cava on Twitter @marcodellacava
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