Book Review: BAD BLOOD – Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup

BADBLOOD

Biomedical Science is a topic of my interest and I try to follow the inventions and innovations in various areas related to it. I find it even more exciting when information technology is found to be an integral part of such innovations. Naturally, the story of Theranos and its technology was of my interest. However, when I started reading this book, I realized how little I knew about this revolutionary Silicon Valley startup.

Before reading the book

My understanding of Theranos prior to reading this book was quite shallow. I had read several articles about Elizabeth Holmes, the brilliant Silicon Valley entrepreneur who invented a revolutionary technology which can do a variety of blood tests with a small amount of blood taken in a noninvasive manner. I read about the skin-patch she invented, which can extract blood without the need for the painful and scary venipuncture (the traditional blood collection method using a needle) method. This miraculous patch could run hundreds of tests against various diseases and deficiencies; as well as deliver appropriate medicines through the skin.

I was following the concepts of Liquid Biopsy which looks for Cancer’s DNA in blood samples and identify the specific treatment options that might work better for a given patient. Genomics researchers consider Liquid Biopsy to be a very critical step towards precision medicine. I thought this advanced blood testing invention by Theranos is a solid step towards that direction. My own elder sister is a cancer survivor, and we went through the painful process of tissue biopsy, chemotherapy, surgery and the long recovery period. It was a few years of intense trauma for the entire family. Being a software technology expert and not a medical doctor, I believe liquid biopsy has tremendous potential towards early detection of Cancer and precise treatment possibilities. In short, I was a great admirer of the technology Theranos claimed it developed.

Then all of a sudden, I heard the news about it’s downfall. I heard that troubles with FDA approval were the reason behind the collapse of the company. I thought it is just an unfortunate regulatory hurdle which killed a promising startup. However, since the technology was very revolutionary, I thought Theranos might fix the compliance gaps and resurrect like a Phoenix.

After Reading the Book

This book helped me to gather more insights into the technology used by Theranos. My understanding of the skin patch wasn’t complete because Theranos had abandoned that idea long back, and moved on to the finger prick method and even venipuncture approach. This book helped me to learn a lot about the blood tests and clinical procedures related to it. I got a fair idea about the culture and the way the company operated. I learned about the charismatic personality of Elizabeth and how she managed to build such an empire (which unfortunately, lasted only for a short period). I learned about the unpleasant work environment created by Sunny and his key aides. I saw the level of secrecy that the company maintained and the role their lawyers played in the day to day operations of the company. I saw that the collapse of the company is not the result of an unfortunate compliance issue raised by the FDA. Instead, it is the cumulative result of a collection of fraudulent and unethic practices followed by the key stakeholders of the company.

What did I gain from reading this book?

Reading a book is always a serious investment. I believe the speed at which people read differs from person to person. I usually take 10-16 hours to read an average size book, over a period of 1-2 weeks. That is much time, considering the work responsibilities and commitment to family and social life. I decided to read this book because Bill Gates listed this as one of the top 5 books he liked in 2018. I did not have to think twice before picking this book from a nearby book store. Was it the right pick? Oh Yes, Absolutely!

The book walks the reader through the sequence of events from the rise to the fall of Theranos. I don’t want to be judgmental and jump into conclusions about anyone mentioned in the book. I want to look at it differently and see what I learned by spending my time reading this book.

General Knowledge

This book helped me to enhance my knowledge about Theranos as a company, its history, its technology and a lot of about blood tests and clinical procedures in general. Considering that technology, innovations and biomedical science is a topic of my interest, this is valuable information for me.

Work Culture, Team Work and Ethics

This book highlights many scenes related to the work culture, teamwork and ethics. Books about Culture and Teamwork usually talk about ‘what to do,’ but this book tells me ‘what not to do.’ Back in my active blogging & speaking days, I used to write and speak a lot about ‘Best Practices’ (such as this) as well as ‘Worst Practices’ (such as this). In many occasions, I found it an excellent way to learn by highlighting what not to do, rather than what to do.

At my workplace, we put a lot of focus and attention in and around the culture and teamwork. This has become a passion as well as the mission for us, and I enjoy dedicating a lot of my time towards building an energetic and positive culture at the workplace. Greg Strobel, our CEO, defines our core values as 4Cs – Character, Commitment, Confidence & Compassion. We believe in building a team which is passionate about being in such a vibrant environment. Communication, transparency, respect, and teamwork are the key characteristics we pay much attention to.

The Theranos work culture described in this book is a clear guide which tells us what not to do.

Conclusions

I enjoyed reading this book. I don’t want to be critical about anyone mentioned in the book. This book contributed my knowledge and development in several ways. It was a very interesting read.

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