Sunday, September 15, 2019

Thoughts on Carreyrou's Bad Blood: Riveting tale, contrasting the tech & biotech worlds

We thoroughly enjoyed reading John Carreyrou's book, Bad Blood, about the Theranos debacle. Overall, it is a gripping story about the fall of a poster-child company operating at the intersection of computer tech and biotech.

We were struck by a number of points in the book.

First of all, it was amazing that Elizabeth Holmes was able to recruit and fool such an eminent board of directors. Her ability to control the narrative and grow the company in spite of some early warning signs and skepticism was interesting. This was most evident in the family conflict amongst the Shultzes, and the huge personal and financial burden on Tyler Schultz in this conflict was amazing.

We also found the book's indictment of the “fake it until you make it” culture in Silicon Valley quite telling. What can work for software might not work so well in the regulated world of health devices -- where bugs or incorrect results can have life-altering consequences. This cautionary tale continues to demonstrate its relevance in light of recent accusations at the microbiome sequencing company uBiome. DNA sequencing technology and many of the companies seeking to commercialize its use as a tool or diagnostic similarly spans the tech and biotech worlds. The tale of Theranos illustrates what can go wrong when these two worlds collide and highlights the need for care and attention when merging tech and biotech in order to realize the promise of advances in digital health.

Finally, we were struck by how Theranos managed to keep its secrets for so long, perhaps through such tight legal regulation and surveillance. It's amazing that they could keep so many people from talking for so long.

All together a gripping, great read that we highly recommend.

Mark Gerstein (with Paul Muir)

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup
by John Carreyrou