- Kingshuk Das, the former lab director who joined the company in 2015 and worked there until it folded in 2018, said Holmes resisted his concerns about Theranos’ signature blood testing machines.
Kingshuk Das, an Indian American lab director who worked at Theranos Inc., was among the latest to testify in the high-profile case of founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes, who’s facing several fraud charges in a federal court in San Jose, California. Holmes, now 37, had founded Theranos Inc., in 2003 as a 19-year-old college dropout and was hailed and celebrated as a Silicon Valley whiz-kid. Also charged is Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani, 56, Holmes’ ex-boyfriend, and former president and COO of Theranos Inc. He faces similar charges in a separate trial scheduled for next year.
Das took the stand on Nov. 9, and told the court that his former boss tried to give federal regulators an “alternative explanation” for two years’ worth of faulty lab results. Das joined the Palo Alto-based private health care and life sciences company in 2015 and worked there until it folded in 2018. Das testified that Holmes pushed back against his concerns about its signature blood testing machines.
Das testified that based on his findings he encouraged Holmes to void tests from the Edison devices conducted in 2014 and 2015, concluding: “These instruments were not performing from the very beginning.”
According to a news report, Das spoke about one incident when he found tests were turning up prostate-specific antigens for female patients. When he alerted Holmes of the results, Das said she gave him an “implausible” excuse explaining that a rare form of breast cancer could be behind the irregular results. “I found these instruments to be unsuitable for clinical use,” The Guardian quoted him as saying.
Das told the court that his “sole responsibility” at the company was responding to a lengthy report from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, that found significant deficiencies in Theranos’ labs.
Several former employees of Theranos Inc. have testified since the trial began last month, including Indian American chemist Surekha Gangakhedkar, a former manager of assay systems; Sunil Dhawan, a dermatologist who became Theranos’ lab director in 2014; and Nimesh Jhaveri, a former Walgreens executive.
During his Oct. 14 testimony, Dhawan said he took up the job as lab director at the insistence of his patient Balwani, who was then the president of the company. According to news reports, Dhawan told the court that Balwani assured him that the job required “minimal” commitment. A November 2014 email was also shared in the court, where Balwani had mentioned that Dhawan’s role at the company “will be mostly an on-call consulting role,” news reports said. Dhawan also told the court that he had met the federal and state requirements to be a lab director.
Jhaveri spoke about the company’s relationship with Walgreens. He told the court that Walgreens’ goal in its partnership with Theranos “was to allow customers to get their lab results with just a few drops of blood,” the Wall Street Journal reported. “Providing a more efficient and less painful process than traditional labs would be “extraordinary,” the Journal quoted Jhaveri as saying. “It was changing the lab environment,” he said. “Less blood required was the actual magic, it was so intriguing to us at Walgreens.”
Gangakhedkar told the court that Holmes would bully, pressurize, deceive and intimidate her employees. She said during her testimony that Holmes pushed her to validate test results of the company’s Edison 3.0 and 3.5 machines, despite their accuracy. She then described how after returning from a vacation in August 2013 she found out that Theranos was about to launch its Edison blood-testing devices in Walgreens stores despite there being basic errors in the machine’s operation. “I was very stressed and unhappy and concerned with the way the launch was going,” news reports quoted Gangakhedkar telling the court. “I was not comfortable with the plans that they had in place so I made a decision to resign and not continue working there.” After spending eight years in the company, Gangakhedkar resigned in September 2013.
Holmes and Balwani were originally charged in June 2018 on two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and nine counts of wire fraud. According to the indictment unsealed on June 15, 2018, Holmes and Balwani had engaged in a multi-million dollar scheme to defraud investors and a separate scheme to defraud doctors and patients, and both schemes entailed promotion. If convicted, each of them could face 20 years in prison and fines of $250,000, plus restitution, for each count of wire fraud and for each conspiracy count. The trial has been delayed multiple times by the COVID-19 pandemic and by the birth of Holmes’ child on July 10 of this year.