Both the White House and the Clinton Foundation have chosen to showcase Elizabeth Holmes this year, but her multi-billion-dollar blood-testing start-up is on the verge of unraveling due to serious questions over whether it has been misleading the public.
Holmes founded Theranos and grew it to a $9 billion valuation based on the claim it was able to perform highly effective blood tests using just a few drops of blood. The promise of faster and cheaper blood tests that could be done at a local pharmacy drew attention—and more than $100 million in investments.
The success of Theranos got Holmes an invitation to the White House in May for a "meeting on global entrepreneurship" hosted by President Barack Obama. She was named one of the Presidential Ambassadors for Global Entrepreneurship.
She was also showcased on the White House YouTube page, touting her company’s ability to "to do laboratory testing in a highly accessible way."
She appeared on stage with former President Bill Clinton months later during the Clinton Global Initiative annual meeting in October, and Theranos was praised by Clinton for its ability to "increase equality."
Her company is advised by one of the most trusted voices of health care in Clinton world, Chris Jennings, who currently advises Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
Holmes was named one of Time’s 100 most influential people in 2015, with her bio written by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger (who is on the Theranos board of directors). Just this week, she was honored alongside Caitlyn Jenner as the winner of Glamour Magazine’s Woman of the Year award.
However, positive press has come to a halt as the end of the year approaches.
In the month since a Wall Street Journal exposé revealed that Theranos has been misleading both federal regulators and the public on the abilities of its own blood-test machine, the company has already seen its million-dollar deals with Safeway and Walgreens fall apart.
Among the multiple findings in the Journal piece is that the machine used to test small blood samples was providing wildly inaccurate results, and that executives at Theranos attempted to hide this failure from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Theranos has called the recent media coverage "cynical and misleading," but has yet to disprove its findings. The author of the Journal piece won the Pulitzer Prize for investigative journalism in 2015.
Theranos was already considered a "secretive" company. Many in the health care field considered the Theranos team of scientists to be conducting "stealth research" because none of the findings were published in any peer-reviewed journals in the biomedical field.
"Stealth research creates total ambiguity about what evidence can be trusted in a mix of possibly brilliant ideas, aggressive corporate announcements, and mass media hype," wrote John Ioannidis of Stanford’s Meta-Research Innovation Center.
It appears Holmes' decision to keep the details of the company’s abilities secret was made because she feared the results, not because she feared that they would be stolen.
"We have a small army of people ready and willing to test Theranos’s products if they’d ask us, and that can be done without revealing any trade secrets," Jerry Yeo of the University of Chicago told the New York Times. "You have to subject yourself to peer review. You can’t just go in a stealthy mode and then announce one day that you’ve got technology that’s going to disrupt the world."
Neither the Clinton Foundation nor the White House responded to a request for comment.