Theranos’ investor pitches go on trial

Prosecutors in the Elizabeth Holmes fraud case are now highlighting allegations the company sought to mislead investors.

Former Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes

The fresh details of unproven claims made about the viability of Theranos' blood tests and efforts to conceal errors when demonstrating testing equipment added to the evidence against Holmes, who is accused of fraud in her role leading the company.

Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Theranos trial continued this week with testimony from Daniel Edlin, a former product manager at the blood-testing startup, and Shane Weber, a scientist from Pfizer. Their testimonies appeared to bolster the government's argument that Holmes intentionally defrauded investors and patients.

The fresh details about audacious and unproven claims made about the viability of Theranos' blood tests and efforts to conceal errors when demonstrating testing equipment added to the evidence against Holmes, who is accused of fraud in her role leading the company.

On Tuesday, jurors heard testimony from Edlin. According to New York Times reporter Erin Woo, who relayed Edlin's remarks in a Twitter thread, he testified that Holmes was really involved when it came to Theranos' marketing, which was often misleading. The Wall Street Journal reported that draft copy for the company's website included several statements touting the high accuracy of their blood tests, which a law firm recommended the company change to less weighty claims.

Edlin also recalled sending materials with equally strong claims to investors like Rupert Murdoch, which Holmes approved. One document claimed Theranos was conducting the same blood tests but with a new approach that required only "1/1,000 the size of" a typical blood draw, he said. Edlin didn't recall removing any such language from those materials.

On Wednesday, Edlin testified about Theranos' demo app, which was allegedly designed to hide errors from prospective investors, patients and others viewing a prototype testing device. Woo captured much of the exchange in a Twitter thread.

Kevin Downey, a lawyer for the defense, asked Edlin if he was intentionally trying to deceive anyone via the demos. Edlin said that the app did hide errors from viewers, and said the demos were intended to showcase Theranos' technology. John Bostic, an assistant U.S. attorney, asked Edlin a series of rapid-fire questions about why errors were hidden and results withheld. Edlin said he had relied on higher-ups' decisions on whether to disclose inconsistent results, adding that Daniel Young and Elizabeth Holmes had the final say over which demo results were reported.

Edlin said he ultimately decided to leave Theranos because he didn't believe the company was capable of proving that its technology actually worked.

On Friday, Shane Weber, a scientist at Pfizer, took the stand. According to New York Times reporter Erin Griffith in a Twitter thread, Weber said Theranos didn't hold any clinical interest for Pfizer. And yet, according to the WSJ, prosecutors alleged that a document with an image of the Pfizer logo was shown to investors, implying the drugmaker's approval of Theranos' technology. Weber said he had not seen that email before.

The trial continued with testimony from Bryan Tolbert of Hall Group, a Theranos investor. Tolbert shared a recording of a pitch by Holmes — the first time the jury has heard her voice, Griffith noted.

While earlier testimony in the case focused on operational problems at Theranos' testing facility, the government now appears to be highlighting allegations of deceptive conduct with investors. This is where prosecutors may face their biggest challenge: distinguishing a founder's visionary optimism from outright deceit.

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