The whistle-blower, Erica Cheung, worked at Theranos as a lab assistant for six months in 2013 and 2014, before reporting lab test problems at the company to federal agents at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in 2015 . The first day of testimony revealed what a jury following the Theranos saga most likely already knew: the company’s famous blood-testing technology didn’t work.
In a crowded courtroom, Ms. Cheung said she had turned down other job offers out of college to join Theranos because she was dazzled by Ms. Holmes’ charisma and inspired by her success as a woman in technology. She was Ms Holmes said Theranos’ machines, called Edisons, would be able to quickly and inexpensively detect whether people have a variety of health ailments using just a few drops of blood.
Ms. Cheung said of Ms. Holmes, “She was very forthright and a firm believer in her mission.”
But Ms Cheung’s enthusiasm faded when she saw the work in Theranos’ lab with which she disagreed, he said. In some cases, extraneous results of the blood test were removed to ensure that Theranos’ technology passed quality control tests. Ms Cheung was also concerned when she donated her blood to Theranos and tests on the company’s machines said she had a vitamin D deficiency but conventional tests were not, she testified.
Ms Cheung, who looked at a menu of about 90 blood tests offered by Theranos, said that despite Ms Holmes’ promises about Edison machines, they can only process a few of the tests listed. The rest had to be done by conventional blood analyzers or sent to a diagnostic company, she said.
Ultimately, Ms Cheung resigned over her misgivings about Theranos’ testing services.
“I was uncomfortable processing patient samples,” she said. “I didn’t think the technology we were using was good enough to engage in that behavior.”
During Ms. Cheung’s testimony, Ms. Holmes’ lawyers objected to the various types of emails and other internal communications presented as evidence by the prosecution. Both sides disputed the rules of argument that could be used and the relevance of Ms Cheung’s testimony.
“The CEO is not responsible for every communication that happens within the company,” said attorney Lance Wade, representing Ms. Holmes.
John Bostic, a prosecutor and an assistant US attorney, argued that documents showing Theranos’ internal issues were relevant to the case, regardless of whether or not Ms. Holmes was named.
Mr. Wade countered that Ms. Cheung was an entry-level employee and that she hardly interacted with Ms. Holmes.
“To the best of our knowledge, the interview you just heard was the longest I have ever had with our client,” he said.
Throughout it all, Ms. Holmes sat quietly in a gray blazer and black dress, watching the proceedings from behind a medical mask.
Cheung’s 2015 letter to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services outlined the problems with Theranos’ testing, which triggered a surprise oversight by the agency that caused the company to close its laboratories. Tyler Schultz, another young employee in Theranos’ lab shared details About the lab’s problems with The Wall Street Journal, which published the company’s exposés. Mr Schultz is also listed as a potential witness in the trial.
Since her role in Theranos’ demise, Cheung has become an advocate for ethics in technology. She has given a TED Talk about speaking truth to power and helped found Ethics in Entrepreneurship, a non-profit that provides ethics training and workshops to start-up founders, workers, and investors.