In 2015, inventor Elizabeth Holmes entered the Forbes 400 as the youngest self-made billionaire. She was the CEO of a company called Theranos and promised to change the medical game with an invention she dubbed the Edison, a machine that could quickly produce thousands of accurate blood test results from just a single finger prick.
Investors flocked to Silicon Valley and poured money into Theranos. There was just one problem: The tests didn't work. Within a few years of launching, Theranos was liquidated. Holmes now faces charges for fraud and possible prison time. While she awaits trial, Holmes continues to live in San Francisco with her fiancé, 27-year-old hotel heir Billy Evans. She's even looking to launch a new startup.
If you've seen the documentary The Inventor or read the book Bad Blood, you know Holmes has a complicated relationship with the truth. Her list of cons and the claims she's made about Theranos extend far beyond innocuous white lies.
What Theranos said: Theranos told investors the US Department of Defense was using the company's products. Elizabeth Holmes and Ramesh "Sunny" Balwani claimed Theranos's blood testing devices were already actively used in medevac helicopters on military battlefields.
The reality: The product never worked and was certainly not widely used by the government in wartime. Theranos products were, however, part of a government burn study. Theranos made $300,000 over three contracts. Other than that, its products were not approved by officials.
What Theranos said: Standardized blood tests take a few days or even weeks to provide results, but Holmes claimed Theranos products could produce accurate information much quicker. Holmes told The New Yorker:
A chemistry is performed so that a chemical reaction occurs and generates a signal from the chemical interaction with the sample, which is translated into a result, which is then reviewed by certified laboratory personnel.
The reality: The Edison could not perform the tasks Theranos claimed - certainly not in such a short period of time. Since the Edison did not work, the company was using standard third-party lab devices to administer tests and provide results. That's right, the exact lab devices Theranos claimed to outperform.
What Theranos said: Holmes claimed her blood testing device, the Edison, could run a multitude of blood tests from a single finger prick in what the company called a "nanotainer." Traditionally, blood testing requires several vials.
The reality: The Edison, which was later dubbed the miniLab, never actually worked. Blood testing requires more than a finger prick to accurately detect disease. According to Dr. George Yaghmour, a hematologist at USC's Keck School of Medicine, "If you talk about culture and infection, then you need a specific amount of blood." In other words, the idea that only a drop would be sufficient in identifying illness is outrageous.
What Theranos said: Holmes told investors and employees they didn't need FDA approval for their diagnostic tests.
The reality: Theranos did need approval, but managed to avoid FDA intervention. The company hid the equipment they knew didn't work during FDA inspections. They also used a loophole by designating their technology as "lab-developed tests," which allowed them to move ahead without official approval.
The FDA approved just one test for herpes, but a Theranos employee filed a complaint against it saying it was "tainted by breaches in research protocol."