Mary Ann Liebert, publisher of GEN
Mary Ann Liebert, publisher of GEN

Theranos. How far has Elizabeth Holmes set back women who want to start a biotech company?

Determined to become very rich, Elizabeth Holmes was a Steve Jobs wannabe, emulating even his style of dress and driving without a license plate. She charmed, persuaded, and convinced not only venture capitalists, but very rich people, including Rupert Murdoch, to invest in her company, Theranos. John Carreyrou's book Bad Blood is a solid reconstruction of her ability to raise money and convince companies like Walgreens and Novartis that her technology delivered the results that would result in profitability of magnitude proportions. And she knew they didn’t work. Attractive and driven, she kept going regardless of those facts. A colossal scam, and, to my way of thinking, unforgivable.  

Although she was not a scientist steeped heavily in technology, she insinuated herself among people of wealth, personal and professional, to invest heavily. A real cheerleader, in the office as well as with the rich and famous, she created a company that is a $700 million fraud. 

There are approximately 15 biotechnology companies that have been started by women, including the bioinformatics company CosmoID, established by the highly esteemed marine biologist Dr. Rita Colwell.  That is a very small number in itself. Will the Theranos debacle make it harder for women to convince investors, including venture capitalists and private investors, to commit to a woman-owned biotech startup? It’s also worth mentioning that under 10% of executive positions in biotechnology are held by women.

Elizabeth Holmes’ Theranos debacle may make it harder for women to attract the funding they need from those who control big money from investors. We will be discussing this at the annual Rosalind Franklin Society meeting in Philadelphia at the Wistar Center November 1 and 2. Holmes is a pariah among the highly qualified women whose accomplishments and integrity are absolute, and we need to ensure that what she has done does not destroy the possibility of more women-owned initiatives. I look forward to your comments; drop me a note [email protected].

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