If 29-year-old Elizabeth Holmes has her way, patients will no longer have to go to physicians' offices, hospitals, or laboratories to get high-complexity diagnostic blood tests. Nor will vial after vial of blood draws be necessary to do these tests.
Barely out of the gate after a decade of secrecy, the Stanford dropout is already drawing comparisons with Steve Jobs (she often wears the same black turtleneck). And her company, Theranos, Inc., which emerged from the shadows in September, just might be healthcare's answer to Apple. The so-called disruptive technology that Ms. Holmes, a former engineering major, and Theranos have created is said to have the potential to shake up and forever change the way laboratory medicine is conducted.
Since forgoing college at 19, Ms. Holmes has secured millions of dollars in funding for her new venture, including $45 million in private equity funding in 2010. The board of directors of her company is a Who's Who of distinguished former and current technology, academic, and government officials.[2,3]
In an exclusive interview, Ms. Holmes talks to Medscape Editor-in-Chief Eric J. Topol, MD, about the decade she spent building her company; plans for the present and the future, including a recent deal with Walgreens drugstores; and whether she's on the path to the creative destruction of laboratory medicine.
Leaving Stanford at Age 19
Dr. Topol: Hello. I'm Dr. Eric Topol, Editor-in-Chief of Medscape. Joining me today for Medscape One-on-One is Elizabeth Holmes, Founder, President, and CEO of Theranos. We are here in Palo Alto, California, at the company's headquarters. Elizabeth, welcome. This is going to be a fascinating discussion.
Ms. Holmes: Thank you. It's wonderful to be here and have you here.
Dr. Topol: This is a story that has been brewing for a long time. You were at Stanford University, and at age 19 you decided to change your path. Is that right?
Ms. Holmes: Yes.
Dr. Topol: What made you think, "I'm on to something, and I don't want to do college; I've got something else that's probably bigger than that"?
Ms. Holmes: I knew that I wanted to do something that could make a difference in the world. To me, there was nothing greater that I could build than something that would change the reality in our healthcare system today, which is that when someone you love gets really, really sick, usually by the time you find that out, it's too late to be able to do something about it. And in those moments it's heartbreaking, because there is nothing you wouldn't do.
As I started thinking about how to change that, I became very focused on the laboratory space and the context of the power of laboratory data -- which drives, some say, 80% of clinical decisions -- and the ability to help make access to that information more available to people, and to try to create actionable information that would be accessible to people at the time that it really matters.