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


November 18, 2013

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UPDATED April 1, 2019 -- Elizabeth Holmes, the subject of the interview below, is also the focus of a new HBO documentary, "The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley."  Bad Blood, a book by John Carreyrou about Theranos, the company Holmes founded, was released in 2018 and is scheduled to be made into a movie starring Jennifer Lawrence. Holmes remains under indictment.

UPDATED June 28, 2018 -- Elizabeth Holmes, the subject of the following interview, has been indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of wire fraud. Earlier this year, she settled charges with the Securities and Exchange Commission that stripped her of control over Theranos, the company she founded. According to the indictment, she encouraged doctors and patients to use the company’s blood testing services even though she knew it was not capable of consistently producing accurate and reliable results for certain blood tests.

When Holmes first arrived on the scene, the Stanford dropout frequently was compared with Steve Jobs, and Theranos was described as healthcare's answer to Apple.[1] Holmes secured millions of dollars in funding for her new venture, including $45 million in private equity funding in 2010.[2] The initial board of directors of her company was a Who's Who of distinguished former and current technology, academic, and government officials.[2,3]

In the following interview, Holmes talked to Medscape Editor-in-Chief Eric J. Topol, MD, about the years she spent building her company and her plans for the future.

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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