The criminal trial of Elizabeth Holmes, the founder and former CEO of the failed blood-testing startup, is set to resume on Tuesday with the testimony of a former Theranos lab director. Holmes’ lawyers have previously claimed that the accuracy and reliability of the company’s tests were not her responsibility, but rather that of the lab’s managers.
The prosecution’s case has focused on the state of the lab and Theranos’ testing capabilities ahead of its major commercial launch with Walgreens, with the former director’s testimony lasting all day on Friday.
Assistant US Attorney John Bostic questioned Adam Rosendorff for about five hours in a San Jose federal courtroom where Holmes’ trial is taking place. Rosendorff joined Theranos in April 2013 after applying for a lab director job on LinkedIn.
Rosendorff said he left his job as a lab director at the University of Pittsburgh Children’s Hospital to join Theranos, which he predicted would be “the next Apple.” But, despite the company’s rising profile, he left in November 2014, after becoming dissatisfied with its apparent priorities.
“I felt pressured to vouch for tests that I did not have confidence in. I came to believe that the company believed more about PR and fundraising than about patient care,” he began his testimony. “The platform was not allowing me to function effectively as a lab director.”
Rosendorff testified that he became lab director in the middle of 2013 after applying for his medical license in California, and that a co-lab director, Mark Pandori, was hired in early 2014. (Pandori is also listed as a possible witness for the government.) Rosendorff claimed he reported to Theranos’ then-chief operating officer, Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani, who also happened to be Holmes’ boyfriend. According to Rosendorff, Holmes was a higher-ranking executive than Balwani.
Balwani and Holmes are accused of defrauding investors, patients, and doctors about the capabilities of Theranos’ proprietary blood testing technology. Balwani and Holmes have both entered not guilty pleas and could face a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. Balwani’s trial is set to begin early next year, while the others are being tried separately.
Rosendorff described the events leading up to Theranos’ commercial launch of testing with Walgreens in September 2013 as “extremely rushed and hurried” in his testimony.
He claimed that it was Holmes and Balwani, not him, who set the schedule for validating tests ahead of the commercial launch. Rosendorff sent an email to Holmes and Theranos vice president Daniel Young just days before the launch, which he testified was an attempt to “raise the alarm bells” about tests he didn’t think were ready for launch, as well as saying he was raising “concerns about staffing and training.”
He had requested “a few more weeks” to sort through some of the concerns, according to the email, which would mean delaying the launch.
Rosendorff claimed he sent the email to Holmes and met with her in her office, where she had “papers stuck to the window with a number on it, which indicated the number of days until launch,” according to Rosendorff.
“I told her that the potassium was unreliable, the sodium was unreliable, the glucose was unreliable, [and] explained why,” Rosendorff testified. (With just a few drops of blood, Theranos promised patients the ability to test for diseases like cancer and diabetes.)
“She was very nervous. She was not her usual composed self. She was trembling a bit, her knee was tapping, her voice was breaking up. She was clearly upset,” he continued. He claimed she replied that they could use FDA-approved devices instead of Theranos’ devices as needed.