Elizabeth Holmes pushed for faster launch of Theranos Walgreens: Testimony

Elizabeth Holmes, CEO of Theranos, participates in a panel discussion during the Clinton Global Initiative’s annual meeting in New York, September 29, 2015.

Brendan McDermid | Reuters

SAN JOSE, CALIF. A former Theranos researcher testified on Friday that Elizabeth Holmes pressured her to validate blood test results from the company’s Edison machine to speed up a rollout in Walgreens despite problems with the device’s accuracy.

Surekha Gangakhedkar, an eight-year senior scientist at Theranos who reported directly to Holmes, testified that she returned from a vacation in August 2013 and discovered that Theranos was about to launch its Edison blood testing units in Walgreens stores.

“I was very stressed and dissatisfied and worried about how the launch went,” said Gangakhedkar. “I was not comfortable with the plans they had, so I made a decision to resign and not continue working there.”

Gangakhedkar recalled a meeting with Holmes in September 2013 about the issues that led to her resignation.

“At that time, she mentioned that she has promised to deliver to customers and did not have much choice to go ahead with the launch,” said Gangakhedkar and became emotional in the stands.

“Ms Holmes said she did not have much choice?” asked Robert Leach, Assistant U.S. Attorney.

“Yes,” she replied.

Although he signed an information agreement, Gangakhedkar said she printed out some documents and took them home when she stopped because she was “worried about the launch, I was actually afraid that if things did not go well I would be blamed.”

Gangakhedkar was granted immunity from criminal charges in exchange for her testimony.

She testified that in August 2013 she did not believe that Edison 3.0 and 3.5 were ready to be used for patient testing, adding “there were problems getting consistent results.” But Gangakhedkar recalled that Holmes pressured the team to validate the tests despite the fact that “in my opinion she was aware” of the accuracy issues.

Holmes is fighting 12 charges of network fraud and conspiracy to commit fraud and has pleaded not guilty. In introductory statements, her defense attorney told the jury that Holmes was an ambitious young woman who made mistakes but did not commit a crime.

Earlier in the day, Erika Cheung, a former lab announcer, a whistleblower, ended her testimony after three days in the stands. Cheung recalled that frequent error checks in the laboratory created significant delays in test results for patients.

“We got people to sleep in their cars because it just took too long,” Cheung testified. “Every other day we had to run tests over and over again.”

Cheung, who dropped out of Therano’s six months after graduating from college, said she “became worried probably a month after the vitamin D tests.”

Gangakhedkar’s testimony continues on Tuesday. Among the insiders the government plans to call to testify next is Daniel Edlin, a project manager who reported directly to Holmes and worked with the Walgreen Partnership. Edlin was also friends with Holme’s brother, Christian.

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