They Still Live in the Shadow of Theranos’s Elizabeth Holmes
Women at tech start-ups wrote to her thanking her for saying what they had been feeling, Ms. Esponnette said.
Lola Priego, 30, the founder of Base, which offers at-home blood and saliva tests that are processed at traditional labs, hears a Theranos comparison at least once a week, she said. The references come directly or indirectly from potential partners, advisers, investors, customers and reporters, she said.
She said she understood the need for skepticism, since new health care companies should be looked at critically to prevent malpractice. Often the comparisons stopped after people learned that Base works with Quest Diagnostics, a multinational company, for analysis of its tests.
“But the additional bias and skepticism is challenging to overcome,” Ms. Priego said.
The biggest blow came from a scientific adviser whom Ms. Priego said she had tried to recruit in 2019. The adviser took the meeting only to tell her that bringing technology into health care was doing a disservice to the industry, just like Theranos. It caused Ms. Priego to question whether she could hire the caliber of advisers she had hoped for.
“It was quite demoralizing,” she said. She has since recruited six advisers.
In July, Verge Genomics struck a three-year partnership with the pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly to work on drugs for the treatment of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or A.L.S., Ms. Zhang said. The company also published a paper about its methods in a scientific journal last year and recruited a chief science officer this year.
It was a relief to have something to show to those who were doubtful, Ms. Zhang said.
“The most fragile part of the company is the earliest stage, when you have to buy into the people, the vision and the idea,” she said. Reflecting on Ms. Holmes and Theranos, she added, “It’s where these types of associations can be really harmful and curtail potential.”