Creative Disruption? She's 29 and Set to Reboot Lab Medicine

Elizabeth Holmes plans to revolutionize testing by using tiny blood draws and offering near-instantaneous results

; Elizabeth Holmes

| Disclosures | November 18, 2013
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Editor's Note:
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.[1] 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.[2] 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.

 
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References

  1. Secretive Theranos emerging (partly) from shadows. San Francisco Business Journal. September 13, 2013. http://www.bizjournals.com/sanfrancisco/blog/biotech/2013/09/theranos-elizabeth-holmes-walgreens.html?page=all Accessed Novemeber 11, 2013.

  2. Theranos Raises $45M For Personalized Medicine. Xconomy. http://www.xconomy.com/san-francisco/2010/07/08/theranos-raises-45m-for-personalized-medicine/ Accessed November 11, 2013.

  3. Theranos. Our Company. http://www.theranos.com/our-company Accessed November 11, 2013.

  4. Theranos. Providers/Our Lab. http://www.theranos.com/our-lab Accessed November 11, 2013.

  5. Theranos. For Providers/Test Menu. http://www.theranos.com/test-menu?ref=for_providers Accessed November 11, 2013.

  6. The Father of Creative Destruction. Wired. March 2002. http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/10.03/schumpeter.html Accessed November 11, 2013.

  7. Rago J. Elizabeth Holmes: the breakthrough of instant diagnosis. Wall Street Journal. September 8, 2013. http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424127887324123004579055003869574012 Accessed November 12, 2013.

Authors and Disclosures

Authors

Eric J. Topol, MD

Director, Scripps Translational Science Institute; Chief Academic Officer, Scripps Health; Professor of Genomics, The Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, California; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape

Disclosure: Eric J. Topol, MD, has disclosed the following relevant financial relationships:
Serve[d] as a director, officer, partner, employee, advisor, consultant, or trustee for: AltheaDX; Biological Dynamics; Cypher Genomics (Co-founder); Dexcom; Genapsys; Gilead Sciences, Inc.; Portola Pharmaceuticals; Quest Diagnostics; Sotera Wireless; Volcano
Received research grant from: National Institutes of Health; Qualcomm Foundation

Elizabeth Holmes

Founder, President, and CEO, Theranos, Inc., Palo Alto, California

Disclosure: Elizabeth Holmes has disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

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