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From Blood Screen to Silver Screen: The Theranos Story Goes Hollywood

Clinical labs are not usually the stuff of Hollywood. But the story of Theranos and its charismatic leader has attracted filmmakers the way regular law-abiding labs never do, spawning not one but a pair of new movies—including an HBO documentary and a feature length film starring Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence in the role of its woman-in-black, Elizabeth Holmes.

The Theranos Storyline
In case you’ve forgotten, Holmes is the Stanford University dropout who founded a company that was poised to disrupt the blood-testing business. With her black turtlenecks, Holmes charmed the industry and venture capitalists into believing that they were talking to the Steve Jobs of lab medicine. Her pitch centered on a supposed miniaturization technology capable of testing microscopic samples as accurately and a lot more conveniently than any other lab on the planet could.

Convinced that Theranos’ finger stick technology was a real technological breakthrough that would revolutionize the face of lab testing, investors piled billions into the company. Holmes also charmed the media, which heralded Theranos as a Silicon Valley success story, and powerful partners like Walgreens, which entered into what would turn out to be a disastrous consumer alliance with the firm. At its height, Theranos was valued at more than $9 billion.

The Ugly Truth
The Theranos storyline turned out to be a lie. The supposed groundbreaking technology proved nothing of the sort. Theranos not only used analyzers from other manufacturers but did so in ways that weren’t approved or didn’t meet federal guidelines. The results were all too often unreliable and inaccurate test results.

Federal and state regulators soon swooped in, resulting in a series of costly settlements that the company would never be able to pay off. As a result of testing issues, the agreement with Walgreens, which had been the company’s stepping stone to the consumer market, also unraveled. The drugstore chain sued Theranos for breach of contract and was awarded damages.

The company was forced to lay off most of its staff.

Then things got really ugly. Holmes and her ex-boyfriend, Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani, who served as Theranos president and chief operating officer until he retired from the company in May 2016, were indicted on nine counts of wire fraud and two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

With its founders awaiting trial, the company dissolved, owing creditors approximately $60 million.

In the Movies
The HBO investigative documentary, “The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley,” premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival and recently aired on HBO. It shares the Holmes story in a straightforward manner, complete with interviews including of John Carreyrou, The Wall Street Journal investigative journalist whose story blew Theranos’ cover and raised the red flags that would result in its undoing.

The other film, “Bad Blood,” reportedly based on Carreyrou’s book of the same name, is currently in production, starring Jennifer Lawrence as Holmes. It remains to be seen if Hollywood will stick to the facts in “Bad Blood.”

It also remains to be seen whether Holmes will get to see the movie on a big screen. She’s still awaiting trial for criminal charges, although a date for the trial hasn’t even been set.

Meanwhile, Holmes has moved on with her life—a life that doesn’t include the lab industry. The television show “Inside Edition” reports that Holmes is engaged to a hospitality heir, and that she has stopped wearing black turtlenecks.

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