Embattled Theranos Forms New Advisory Board of Biotech Experts

Embattled Theranos Forms New Advisory Board of Biotech Experts January 18, 2017
By Alex Keown, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff

PALTO, Calif. – Struggling Theranos has made one more leadership change as it attempts to pivot from a clinical labs company to a health-tech development company.

This morning, Theranos announced a new eight-member Technology Advisory Board helmed by Channing Robertson, a founding fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering, and Howie Rosen, chief executive officer of AcelRx Pharmaceuticals Inc. Theranos said the TAB will be a counterpart to the Science and Medical Advisory Board formed last year. Theranos added noted scientists and medical officials to its scientific advisory board in April as part of an effort to bolster the company’s reputation and counter concerns about the failings of its technology.

The new technology advisory board will be responsible for reviewing Theranos’ technology programs and will advise the company on submitting presentations of the technology in peer-reviewed journals and presentations at scientific meetings. Theranos has been criticized for refusing to present its biotech in peer-reviewed journals.

The new advisory board comes six months after Theranos drastically pivoted its business focus, shifting from a company with a focus on blood-testing technology, to a miniaturized portable laboratory. In October, Elizabeth Holmes, founder and chief executive officer of Theranos, said the company’s ultimate goal is “to commercialize miniaturized, automated laboratories capable of small-volume sample testing, with an emphasis on vulnerable patient populations, including oncology, pediatrics, and intensive care.” The new technology is about the size of a placemat and could be easily used in an office setting, a field laboratory or even an individual home. Holmes expects the new portable laboratory system, dubbed Edison, to be able to run multiple diagnostic tests, such as checking the count of red blood cells or determine if a disease is present in the body, such as HIV. The portable lab falls in line with Holmes’ long-held belief in the ease of access to medical lab facilities.

The announcement of the new advisory board comes days after the company terminated about 41 percent of its workforce as part of the pivot from its blood-testing devices to the development of the miniLab.

In a statement Robertson, a professor emeritus at Stanford University, where Holmes attended, said the members of the advisory board all had the opportunity to examine the miniLab as well as meet with company researchers and leadership team members. Robertson said the TAB members “share our belief in the potential for the minilab.”

In addition to Robertson and Rosen, the other members of the new advisory board are: Harvey Blanch, the Merck Professor (Emeritus) of Biochemical Engineering at the University of California at Berkeley; John Moalli, acting head of product at Theranos; Allen Northrup, co-founder of Cepheid ; Clint Ostrander, former CEO and president of Kozio Inc.; Norbert Pelc, chair of Bioengineering at Stanford University; and Mark Prausnitz, chair in chemical and biomolecular engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

While Theranos has shifted its focus, it is still facing multiple lawsuits related to its blood-testing labs. Last week, Arizona’s attorney general said he planned to file a lawsuit against the company over a "long-running scheme of deceptive acts and misrepresentations” that are related to its blood testing technology. Other lawsuits include a $140 million lawsuit filed by former partner Walgreens and a lawsuit filed by a Bay Area hedge fund that alleged the biotech company duped investors about the efficacy of its products in order to attract investments of nearly $100 million. Theranos is also the subject of a criminal investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice with investigations centering on whether or not Theranos and its executives misled investors as to the efficacy of its blood-testing products.

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