New Theranos Documentary Hits the Silver Screens, Then HBO

Elizabeth Holmes gesturing with hands

Krista Kennell /

Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of the now-failed Theranos, has become a subject of fascination for many people. Her ability to secure billions of dollars for her company without showing any supporting evidence of the product to investors is a compelling study.

Not only are there questions of how she was able to do it, but how she was able to maintain the façade for so long? Holmes is such a fascinating subject she and Theranos have become the subject of a plethora of articles, books, a long-form podcast from ABC, a feature film in the works starring Jennifer Lawrence and documentaries. This week, a documentary called “The Inventor: Out For Blood In Silicon Valley” about Holmes will hit the theaters for a limited run and then appear on HBO. The documentary is the brainchild of noted documentarian Alex Gibney. Gibney, who won an Academy Award in 2008 for his documentary “Taxi to the Dark Side,” teamed up with HBO Documentary Films to tell the story of Theranos.

During a premiere of “The Inventor,” Gibney sat down with members of the media to discuss his conclusions about Holmes, who is currently awaiting trial for fraud. In an interview with recode, Gibney said he came to the conclusion that Holmes truly believed that she would be able to develop a blood test that could be used to diagnose multiple medical issues from a single drop of blood. He also noted that many investors wanted to believe in her mission too, which is why they heaped praise and tons of cash on the company.

In the early days of Theranos, media and investors could not heap enough praise on the company. Gibney said he believes that’s because people really wanted to believe in the product the company was supposedly developing and the altruistic nature of it.

“…how we’re all suckers for a story that we want to hear, and the story that Elizabeth was telling was a story that we all wanted to hear: We can make health care better, we can make it more transparent, we can make it cheaper, we can make it less invasive.”

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Another reason that Gibney believes people supported the Holmes story was the fact that she was a female founder and chief executive officer in a male-dominated world. Holmes also carefully cultivated her image to mirror that of Apple visionary Steve Jobs, which allowed for a kind of connection to him for many people.

In the end, though, Gibney said Holmes crossed the line, which is why she is facing criminal fraud charges. Not only did she defraud investors, but Gibney pointed out that the falsehoods around her blood-testing device actually put the lives of people at risk. In 2016, Theranos voided more than 30,000 blood tests that were administered through its partner Walgreens. That set up multiple lawsuits against the company because many people based medical decisions off of the results of those tests.

“… in this case, Elizabeth really crossed an ethical line that should not have been crossed, and that was, she had a blood-testing technology that wasn’t really working very well, but she needed money, she needed to go forward, she needed the support of Walgreens, so she went live and started allowing Theranos devices to be used on real patients. Now you’re talking about life and death because they were testing for things like hepatitis C and syphilis and also for various blood values that cause certain people to go to the emergency room because they were convinced that they were in a whole heap of trouble,” Gibney told recode.

In addition to the criminal charges against Sunny Balwani, the former president of Theranos, and Holmes, a class action lawsuit against Theranos could be going forward in Arizona. The proposed lawsuit is not only aimed at Theranos, but also its former partner Walgreens, which had a deal with the company. That potential lawsuit though has been affected by the fact that Theranos has shut down and has no funds.

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