Elizabeth Holmes wanted to believe

As the former Theranos CEO testified in her defense, her lawyers played up partnerships and technical breakthroughs that had once seemed promising.

Elizabeth Holmes

Elizabeth Holmes said she believed in Theranos' potential.

Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

"We thought this was a really big idea," Elizabeth Holmes said Monday as she testified in her own defense against fraud charges in a San Jose courtroom.

That was the essence of the former Theranos CEO's legal strategy as she began her first full day of testimony. Accused of defrauding investors and patients with blood-testing technology that didn't work as promised, if at all, Holmes and her lawyers sought to persuade a jury that she was guilty of nothing more than high hopes as Theranos went from a $9 billion valuation to nothing.

In her testimony, Holmes went over the extensive partnerships Theranos clinched, or tried to clinch, with various organizations, including Merck, Stanford University, and the Department of Defense.

Painstakingly going through several contracts, studies and potential partnerships, Holmes appears to be trying to persuade the jury that she and others had reasons to believe in the promises that the company made.

Holmes described a research project with the U.S. Army's Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center, or TATRC, to predict post-traumatic stress disorder, prevent infection in trauma patients and manage diabetes. Theranos never executed the final contract with the Department of Defense. Questioned by lawyer Kevin Downey, she also discussed a sepsis and cancer study with Stanford and partnership discussions with pharmaceutical companies such as Merck, AstraZeneca and Bristol Myers Squibb.

Several times, Holmes said results of different studies were "excellent" and that Theranos' systems "performed well." In one example, she claimed that pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline said it "thought our systems eliminated the need for a lab" after the company had evaluated Theranos' tech.

Toward the end of her testimony, Holmes said Ian Gibbons, the company's late chief scientist, had told her in 2010 that Theranos' technology had the potential to run 15 lab tests from a one blood sample.

"I understood that the four series could do any blood test," Holmes said, referring to a specific Theranos testing device.

Holmes' testimony appeared to leave several opportunities for the prosecution to poke holes. Downey did not ask her about claims she had made to investors that Theranos had a successful partnership with the Department of Defense, despite the absence of a final contract for the TATRC study. And the lawyer did not seek an explanation for incidents in which Theranos used a pharmaceutical company's logo without its authorization in reports shared with investors.

Downey said cross-examination might begin in seven days, at which point the prosecution will get a chance to scrutinize Holmes' claims.

Holmes' trial drew a crowd at the courthouse starting as early as 2 a.m. More than 100 people had gathered by the time security started letting people in. Her testimony is expected to resume Tuesday.


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Janko Roettgers (@jank0) is a senior reporter at Protocol, reporting on the shifting power dynamics between tech, media, and entertainment, including the impact of new technologies. Previously, Janko was Variety's first-ever technology writer in San Francisco, where he covered big tech and emerging technologies. He has reported for Gigaom, Frankfurter Rundschau, Berliner Zeitung, and ORF, among others. He has written three books on consumer cord-cutting and online music and co-edited an anthology on internet subcultures. He lives with his family in Oakland.

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