A former lab director says Theranos 'valued PR and fundraising' over patients

Adam Rosendorff said he felt pressured to vouch for tests he did not have confidence in. His testimony appeared to tie Holmes more closely to the lab's failures.

Elizabeth Holmes

Elizabeth Holmes leaves the San Jose courthouse where her fraud trial is underway.

Photo: Jane Tyska/Digital First Media/The Mercury News via Getty Images

Former Theranos lab director Adam Rosendorff testified Friday that he repeatedly raised the alarm about bad blood tests to then-CEO Elizabeth Holmes, ultimately concluding that the company valued press and funding more than the patients.

"I was very enthusiastic working at Theranos in the beginning. Over time, I came to realize that the company really valued PR and fundraising above patient care, and I became very disillusioned," Rosendorff said on the witness stand inside the San Jose courtroom where Holmes' trial on fraud charges began this month.

The testimony of the Theranos lab director repeatedly tied Holmes to the problems at the Theranos lab, showing the CEO was well aware of the issues and included directly in complaints about the quality of the tests. She is facing charges of fraud and conspiracy to commit fraud against patients and investors. In order to prove its case, the U.S. government has to convince the jury to agree that Holmes had an intent to deceive and reject the defense's argument that she was a young CEO whose startup failed to live up to its promise.

During his testimony, Rosendorff said he felt pressured by upper management to vouch for tests he felt were "wrong." Holmes, accused co-conspirator Sunny Balwani, Daniel Young and Holmes' brother Christian were "pushing" him to rationalize or justify erroneous results, he testified: "Anything other than saying our test is inaccurate."

"At one point I started to refuse to talk to physicians. I believe I told one or two physicians that I didn't believe in the results," he added.

Rosendorff joined Theranos in early 2013 before Theranos tests were commercially available, and he was intrigued by the idea of running tests on a fingerprick of blood. "I thought it was going to be the next Apple," he said.

By that summer, a few months after joining, Rosendorff was already looking for a new job. Theranos had struck a deal with Walgreens to test patients' blood inside of the stores and was gearing up for a commercial launch in September 2013. But emails entered as evidence in the case showed that even nine days before the launch, none of Theranos' proprietary tests had been validated for use on patients.

Rosendorff raised the alarm specifically with Holmes, sending an email titled "Concerns about the launch" and asked her to delay it for a few weeks. He recounted that he met directly with Holmes in her office after the email, where she had taped on her window a paper countdown of the number of days left until going live.

"She was not her usual composed self. She was trembling," he said. When he raised his concerns, he said Holmes did not seem surprised to hear them, but was "nervous and upset." Despite his reservations, the launch went ahead as planned.

Rosendorff's concerns about the tests only amplified from there. During the roughly six hours of testimony, Assistant U.S. Attorney John Bostic spent much of it going over the accuracy of several Theranos tests that were run on its own devices or modified third-party machines. The tests included hCG levels, which are crucial to determine pregnancy, as well as cholesterol and potassium levels.

In each case, Rosendorff had expressed concern about tests being out of range, often failing quality control, and ultimately delivering incorrect results to the patients. One example which had come up in earlier testimony was about a pregnant patient whose results wrongly told her she was miscarrying when she in fact was still pregnant. Rosendorff told Holmes he was "freaking out" about the problems with the hCG tests, but she didn't seem alarmed, he said.

In an all-caps email in May 2014, Rosendorff made the call to ban the lab from running the hCG tests on Theranos devices and insisted they use the third-party devices from other manufacturers. It wasn't until he was shown emails during testimony that he found out that some employees had continued to use Theranos' proprietary devices against his orders.

In another case, the company returned potassium levels and sodium levels out of the typical ranges for blood tests far more often than he had seen in other labs. Eventually Theranos stopped reporting the results of any patients whose levels were outside of the expected ranges for certain tests like sodium.

In an email to Holmes, Rosendorff questioned the utility of the test for patients if abnormal results couldn't be delivered to the patient: "I am not sure of the clinical value of a sodium assay in which the only time as we can report it is when it is not critical, and the very situations that require accurate measurement and reporting of abnormal sodium results are voided."

Instead of removing the sodium test from the order menu, Theranos decided to simply report to patients that the results were voided and made it seem like a temporary thing, he said. Rosendorff felt like this was misleading doctors, because often they would specifically be testing for those things if they had come out of range.

Ultimately, Holmes' brother Christian, who handled customer complaints at the lab, also raised concerns directly to his sister in a September 2014 email. "I am always confident in our technology, but it's pretty obvious we have issues with calcium, potassium and sodium specifically," he wrote.

By that point, Rosendorff said he had entirely lost confidence in the technology and that the issue was broader than the three tests.

Eventually, Rosendorff started forwarding messages that documented concerns with a variety of tests to his personal Gmail account, in violation of the company's nondisclosure agreements.

"I wasn't confident that Theranos would preserve these emails in the event of a CMS and government investigation," Rosendorff said, referring to the agency that regulated labs like Theranos. "I wanted to protect myself."

He eventually left Theranos at the end of 2014, disillusioned by the startup that he once thought would be the next Apple. Today, Rosendorff doesn't even list Theranos on his LinkedIn by name.

Rosendorff's testimony is expected to continue in the Theranos trial on Tuesday. Follow Protocol's coverage of the Theranos trial here.

Protocol | Workplace

The whiteboard wars: Miro and Figma want to make meetings better

Miro and Figma separately launched features on Tuesday aimed at improving collaboration on their platforms.

Whiteboard rivals Miro and Figma each released collaboration improvements.

Logos: Figma and Miro

We expect a lot from our productivity tools these days. You can't just stroll over to your team members' desks and show them what you're working on anymore. Most of those interactions need to happen online, and it's even better if the work and the communication can happen in one place. Miro and Figma — competitors in the collaborative whiteboard space — understand how critical remote collaboration is, and are both working to up their meeting game.

This week, both platforms announced features aimed at improving the collaboration experience, each vying to be the home base for teams to work and hang out together. Figma announced updates to its multiplayer whiteboard FigJam, and Miro announced a new set of tools that it's calling Miro Smart Meetings. Figma's goal is to make FigJam more customizable and accessible for everyone; Miro wants to be the best place for content-centered, professional meetings. They both want to be the go-to hub for teams looking to get stuff done.

Keep Reading Show less
Lizzy Lawrence

Lizzy Lawrence ( @LizzyLaw_) is a reporter at Protocol, covering tools and productivity in the workplace. She's a recent graduate of the University of Michigan, where she studied sociology and international studies. She served as editor in chief of The Michigan Daily, her school's independent newspaper. She's based in D.C., and can be reached at llawrence@protocol.com.

The way we work has fundamentally changed. COVID-19 upended business dealings and office work processes, putting into hyperdrive a move towards digital collaboration platforms that allow teams to streamline processes and communicate from anywhere. According to the International Data Corporation, the revenue for worldwide collaboration applications increased 32.9 percent from 2019 to 2020, reaching $22.6 billion; it's expected to become a $50.7 billion industry by 2025.

"While consumers and early adopter businesses had widely embraced collaborative applications prior to the pandemic, the market saw five years' worth of new users in the first six months of 2020," said Wayne Kurtzman, research director of social and collaboration at IDC. "This has cemented collaboration, at least to some extent, for every business, large and small."

Keep Reading Show less
Kate Silver

Kate Silver is an award-winning reporter and editor with 15-plus years of journalism experience. Based in Chicago, she specializes in feature and business reporting. Kate's reporting has appeared in the Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Atlantic's CityLab, Atlas Obscura, The Telegraph and many other outlets.

Protocol | Workplace

Hybrid work is here to stay. Here’s how to do it better.

We've recovered from the COVID-19 digital collaboration whiplash. Now we must build a more intentional model for hybrid work.

This is a call to managers to understand the mundane or unwanted projects their employees face, and what work excites them.

Photo: Adobe

Ashley Still is Adobe's Senior Vice President of Digital Media – Marketing, Strategy & Global Partnerships.

When COVID-19 hit, we were forced into a fully digital mode of business operation. Overnight, we adopted available remote work tools — even if imperfect, they were the best tools for the job.

Keep Reading Show less
Ashley Still
As Senior Vice President, Digital Media – Marketing, Strategy & Global Partnerships, Ashley Still leads product marketing and business development for Adobe's flagship Creative Cloud and Document Cloud offerings. This includes iconic software brands such as Photoshop, Lightroom, Illustrator, InDesign and Acrobat. Her expanded remit now includes Adobe's strategic partnership work with technology companies globally, including Apple, Microsoft and Google; and driving Adobe's fast-growing mobile app business. Her team is also responsible for the demand generation marketing campaigns that makes Adobe the market-leader, across creative and document productivity segments. Previously she was Vice President and General Manager, Adobe Creative Cloud for Enterprise. Here her team delivered an integrated content creation, collaboration and publishing solution that securely enables brands to create exceptional design and content. Prior to this, Ashley was Senior Director of Product & Marketing for Adobe Primetime, an Internet television platform used by Comcast, Turner, NBC Sports and other global media companies to deliver TV content and dynamic advertising to any Internet device. Under Ashley's leadership, Adobe Primetime won an Emmy Award for the Adobe Pass TV-Everywhere service. Ashley joined Adobe in 2004 following her internship with the company and held several product management positions for Adobe Photoshop. Still earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Yale University and her Masters degree from Stanford Graduate School of Business.
Protocol | Workplace

Meet the productivity app influencers

Within the realm of productivity influencing, there is a somewhat surprising sect: Creators who center their content around a specific productivity app.

People are making content and building courses based off of their favorite productivity apps.

Photos: Courtesy

This is the creators' internet. The rest of us are just living in it. We're accustomed to the scores of comedy TikTokers, beauty YouTubers and lifestyle Instagram influencers gracing our feeds. A significant portion of these creators are productivity gurus, advising their followers on how they organize their lives.

Within the realm of productivity influencing, there's a surprising sect: Creators who center their content around a specific productivity app. They're a powerful part of these apps' ecosystems, drawing users to the platform and offering helpful tips and tricks. Notion in particular has a huge influencer family, with #notion gaining millions of views on TikTok.

Keep Reading Show less
Lizzy Lawrence

Lizzy Lawrence ( @LizzyLaw_) is a reporter at Protocol, covering tools and productivity in the workplace. She's a recent graduate of the University of Michigan, where she studied sociology and international studies. She served as editor in chief of The Michigan Daily, her school's independent newspaper. She's based in D.C., and can be reached at llawrence@protocol.com.

Payments Infrastructure

Power Index: Payments Infrastructure

A data-driven ranking of the most powerful players in tech — and the challengers best positioned to disrupt them.

Welcome back to the Protocol Power Index, a ranking of the most powerful companies by tech industry subsector, as well as the companies best positioned to challenge them. This time: payments infrastructure.

The payments stack has been evolving dramatically in the last decade with the rise of ecommerce and new forms of money transfers, and though it's a sector that's been touched by Midas through each of its iterations, there's somehow still space for newcomers to be minted. Payments giants have ceded coveted territory to new market entrants during the process, but they are hardly down for the count.

Keep Reading Show less
Hirsh Chitkara
Hirsh Chitkara (@ChitkaraHirsh) is a researcher at Protocol, based out of New York City. Before joining Protocol, he worked for Business Insider Intelligence, where he wrote about Big Tech, telecoms, workplace privacy, smart cities, and geopolitics. He also worked on the Strategy & Analytics team at the Cleveland Indians.
Latest Stories