Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes told Walgreens executives in an email that pharma giant Pfizer had completed its “own technical validation” of Theranos, jurors in Holmes’ criminal trial heard Friday. As if to support that claim, Holmes attached a document titled “Pfizer Theranos System Validation Final Report,” which included a Pfizer logo.
But the document wasn’t the work of Pfizer’s scientists—it was from Theranos’ own staff.
Pfizer had investigated Theranos’ technology in 2008, but it ultimately concluded that the startup wasn’t worth investing in. “Theranos does not at this time have any diagnostic or clinical interest to Pfizer,” Shane Weber, former director of diagnostics at Pfizer, wrote in December 2008. He added that “no further financial investment or clinical sample resources [should] be extended to Theranos.”
Weber led Pfizer’s investigation, and in the end, he was skeptical of Theranos’ claims regarding its diagnostic technology. Weber also was not impressed with the company or its leadership. For one thing, Theranos had not provided a list of tests it was running on its proprietary devices, which Weber asked for to “make sure we’re both working with the same deck of cards.”
Then there was the report. Theranos had provided a technical document prepared by its scientists. The report claimed that the company’s diagnostic technology had “superior performance” and that “good correlations were seen to various commercially available gold standards.” Weber felt the document was “poorly prepared” and “not believable,” he wrote in emails to Pfizer colleagues. Furthermore, during a one-hour conference call with Holmes, he said that “Theranos has provided non-informative, tangential, deflective, or evasive answers to a written set of technical due diligence questions.”
In January 2009, Weber essentially ended his company’s dealings with Theranos—he confirmed with Theranos that Pfizer had paid what it owed as part of a $900,000 exploratory deal. After that, he said, he was not aware of any further “meaningful” interactions between the two companies.
Weber revealed in cross-examination that he never sent his findings to Theranos. And yet Holmes was using the Pfizer logo in her pitches. Where did the “Pfizer” document come from? It was essentially the same Theranos report that Holmes had sent to Pfizer, prosecutors pointed out, the same one that Weber described as “not believable.”
In court, jurors were shown a “Pfizer” document that Holmes had sent to Walgreens executives in April 2010. “Would it be fair to say in 2010 or after that Pfizer endorsed Theranos technology?” assistant US attorney Robert Leach asked Weber.
“Uh, no,” Weber said, adding that no Pfizer employee had approved that document or its conclusions.
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