‘In­ven­tor’ un­veils dis­graced CEO

Ther­a­nos’ El­iz­a­beth Holmes’ rise and fall.

USA TODAY US Edition - - LIFE - Pa­trick Ryan USA TO­DAY

PARK CITY, Utah – The name on ev­ery­body’s lips was Fyre.

Sure, it was the Sun­dance Film Fes­ti­val pre­miere of Alex Gib­ney’s en­thralling new HBO doc­u­men­tary “The In­ven­tor: Out for Blood in Silicon Val­ley,” a deep dive into the me­te­oric rise and fall of blood-test startup Ther­a­nos.

But more than a few movie­go­ers were over­heard Thurs­day night com­par­ing that com­pany’s dis­graced CEO, El­iz­a­beth Holmes, to sleazy Fyre founder Billy McFarland, whose doomed 2017 mu­sic fes­ti­val is the sub­ject of two docs: Net­flix’s “Fyre” and Hulu’s “Fyre Fraud.”

Af­ter see­ing “In­ven­tor,” the sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween the young en­trepreneur­s are ob­vi­ous: De­spite seem­ingly good in­ten­tions, their lies snow­balled as they re­fused to ad­mit fail­ure.

McFarland promised mil­len­ni­als an In­sta­gram-wor­thy get­away he had nei­ther the funds nor space to make a re­al­ity, while Holmes raised hun­dreds of mil­lions for an af­ford­able, nee­dle-free blood test that wasn’t yet fully func­tional.

And that’s where “In­ven­tor” goes from merely in­ter­est­ing to to­tally in­sane. Through in­ter­views with for­mer em­ploy­ees, we learn how Holmes al­legedly would trick in­vestors by ad­min­is­ter­ing their blood tests with faulty Ther­a­nos tech­nol­ogy, then take them out to lunch while lab tech­ni­cians got re­sults us­ing ri­val com­pa­nies’ ma­chines. The Ther­a­nos equip­ment (known as Edi­son) also was fre­quently dan­ger­ous, with mal­func­tion­ing parts that put phle­botomists at risk of blood ex­po­sure and wildly in­ac­cu­rate data that could lead healthy pa­tients to be­lieve they’re sick.

Ther­a­nos whistle­blow­ers Erika Che­ung and Tyler Shultz al­lege that they were told to fal­sify or re­move any re­sults that seemed sus­pect, which ef­fec­tively meant ly­ing to pa­tients. And yet, none of that de­terred the fa­mously se­cre­tive Holmes from strik­ing a deal with Wal­greens in Ari­zona, where she tried to mass-mar­ket Ther­a­nos blood tests be­fore the com­pany was taken down by an ex­plo­sive Wall Street Jour­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Sim­i­lar to last year’s break­out Sun­dance doc­u­men­tary “Three Iden­ti­cal Strangers,” “In­ven­tor” un­folds like a twisty, psy­cho­log­i­cal thriller that asks its au­di­ence to play judge and jury for its sub­ject. Is Holmes a mar­tyr whose “fake it till you make it” men­tal­ity will even­tu­ally lead to im­por­tant med­i­cal ad­vance­ment? Or is she just a highly delu­sional, patho­log­i­cal liar?

Ther­a­nos shut­tered last fall af­ter blow­ing through roughly $900 mil­lion from in­vestors, and Holmes was charged with wire fraud and con­spir­acy. She pleaded not guilty.

“I never thought that she was Bernie Mad­off, in the sense that from the be­gin­ning, she was run­ning a scam and try­ing to make a lot of money for her­self,” Gib­ney told fes­ti­val-go­ers dur­ing a post-screen­ing Q&A.

“I think she had a noble vi­sion. Whether that was nar­cis­sis­tic or she was a so­ciopath, I’m not qual­i­fied to say. But I do think that was part of why she was able to con­vince so many peo­ple – and con­vince her­self – that what she was do­ing was great, which al­lowed her to lie so ef­fec­tively.”

HOLMES BY USA TO­DAY

MARTIN E. KLIMEK/USA TO­DAY

Ther­a­nos CEO El­iz­a­beth Holmes is re­vealed in “The In­ven­tor: Out for Blood in Silicon Val­ley,”

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