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

In This Article

Managing Competition, Smartphone Integration

Dr. Topol: So we are here at the original Facebook headquarters.

Ms. Holmes: Yes.

Dr. Topol: It's kind of ironic that you set up shop here, very close to the Stanford campus. I guess there are so many different types of innovation that have occurred in this area of Palo Alto and the vicinity. This has been quite a run that you have been on, and I know you have had almost a decade to prepare for this to finally go out. Do you worry that the big lab companies -- for example, LabCorp and Quest Diagnostics -- are going to be threatened by this? Or, on the other hand, could the managed competition make them better? What are your thoughts?

Ms. Holmes: Our focus and our thoughts right now are completely on whether we can make this phlebotomy experience better for the patients, and to create a framework that helps to better provide access to actionable information. If we can do that, then we are successful; all of our time is spent making that happen.

Dr. Topol: The other thing you've mastered is turnaround time. Would this be something that you could run through a smartphone microprocessor? Where do you see the technology going in that regard over the years ahead?

Ms. Holmes: I think integration with a smartphone is a huge area of opportunity, which you have written a lot about. And we strongly agree with that. As we look at ways in which this could evolve in the future, the goal is faster and faster diagnosis, smaller and smaller samples, and more predictive testing in the context of being able to get better tools for early detection. We are deeply committed to going in that direction, with the way in which we can play with our current infrastructure and other things we are working on.

Dr. Topol: Today, patients have to beg and grovel for days or a week after their lab test to find out what it showed, and they can't get the answer typically. So this is a whole different look. What got you into this? Did your parents or your relatives offer some kind of inspiration? This was a big deal, for you to spend such a good portion of your young life to pursue such an enormous project, if you want to call it that. It's bigger than a project. When you look back, is there any root that you can identify for why you would get into something like this?

Ms. Holmes: Absolutely. I grew up in a family with parents whose focus was on making a difference. My dad worked in disaster relief, and to me this is my way that I could help to make a difference.

Possible Military Applications?

Dr. Topol: When the Wall Street Journal article[7] came out, that was the first hint that there is something big going on here -- that Elizabeth and her team have something major percolating here. There are a number of people on your board with a government background, including former Secretary of State George Shultz and others, and many people are starting to ask whether there is a military connection to Theranos. Any comments about that?

Ms. Holmes: We've been incredibly privileged to build a team of people who I have had the chance to work with for many years, and they have such great strategic wisdom. As we look to make the scale of change that we want to make, it is no small undertaking. And being able to leverage the benefit of that strategic wisdom is hugely valuable. There absolutely are applications in a huge number of areas outside of core routine clinical care, and that is something that we've had some exposure to and will continue to be involved in.


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