Elizabeth Holmes, CEO of Theranos, attends a panel discussion during the Clinton Global Initiative’s annual meeting in New York on September 29, 2015.
Brendan McDermid | Reuters
SAN JOSE, CALIF. – A former Theranos scientist testified Friday that Elizabeth Holmes put pressure on her to validate the blood test results from the company’s Edison machine in an attempt to expedite a rollout in Walgreens despite issues with the accuracy of the device.
Surekha Gangakhedkar, an eight-year-old senior scientist at Theranos who reported directly to Holmes, testified that she had returned from vacation in August 2013 and discovered that Theranos was about to market its Edison blood testing devices in Walgreens stores bring.
“I was very stressed and unhappy and worried about the way the start went,” said Gangakhedkar. “I wasn’t happy with the plans they had, so I decided to step down and stop working there.”
Gangakhedkar recalls meeting Holmes in September 2013 about the problems that led to her resignation.
“At the time, she mentioned that she had promised to deliver to the customer and then had no choice but to proceed with the launch,” said Gangakhedkar emotionally at the booth.
“Ms. Holmes said she had no choice?” asked Robert Leach, a US assistant attorney.
“Yes,” she replied.
Despite signing a nondisclosure agreement, Gangakhedkar said she printed out some documents and took them home after she quit because she was “worried about the launch. I was actually afraid that if things didn’t 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 the Edison 3.0 and 3.5 were suitable for patient testing, adding that there were “problems getting consistent results”. Gangakhedkar recalled, however, that Holmes pressured the team to validate the tests even though “I think she was aware of the accuracy issues”.
Holmes is fighting 12 wire fraud and wire fraud conspiracy charges and has pleaded not guilty. In her opening statements, her defense attorney told the jury that Holmes was an ambitious young woman who had made mistakes but had not committed a crime.
Earlier in the day, Erika Cheung, a former lab worker turned whistleblower, finished her testimony after three days on the witness stand. Cheung recalled that frequent quality control errors in the laboratory resulted in significant delays in test results for patients.
“We had people who slept in their cars because it was just taking too long,” said Cheung. “We had to run rehearsals every few days.”
Cheung, who left Theranos six months after entering college, said she was “likely worried about the vitamin D samples for a month”.
Gangakhedkar’s testimony will continue on Tuesday. Among the insiders the government wants to call next to testify is Daniel Edlin, a project manager who reported directly to Holmes and worked on the Walgreens partnership. Edlin was also friends with Holmes’ brother Christian.