Theranos losing millions in partnerships
By: Brent Sher
A longtime adviser to both Bill and Hillary Clinton on health care issues that is currently advising Clinton’s presidential campaign also advised Theranos, a health care start-up that has quickly turned from an industry darling to being labeled a fraud.
Hillary Clinton claims to be the enemy of drug companies but she is no enemy of Chris Jennings, who made millions of dollars as a lobbyist for the pharmaceutical industry after he served as the top health care adviser for the Clinton White House.
President Barack Obama brought him on board in 2013 to coordinate health reform for the White House despite his decade of lobbying. He was charged with heading the final implementation of Obamacare ahead of the opening of the online health exchanges.
Jennings resigned from the post after six months, citing health concerns, but it was reported later in the year by Congressional Quarterly that Jennings had “quietly reopened” his firm Jennings Policy Strategies.
Because Jennings is now doing “non-lobbying” work, he is not required to disclose his clients. The one company he admitted to advising was Theranos, a medical testing company that claimed to invent an industry-changing machine and was valued at $9 billion.
Theranos claimed to invent a blood test that could provide results for a fraction of the cost of current blood tests, one that would require only drops of blood taken via a finger-prick rather than a full vial from a needle.
The company’s founder, Elizabeth Holmes, who became the “world’s youngest female billionaire” with Theranos, said that the technology allowed for “something like a cholesterol test [for] $2.99” that could be performed at a local pharmacy.
It is unclear whether Jennings knew when he signed on as an adviser for the company that these claims were wildly optimistic, and that the technology that promised to drastically reduce health costs was not all it was made out to be.
A thorough Wall Street Journal exposé published in October based on internal Theranos emails and interviews with multiple former Theranos revealed that the technology invented by Theranos, a blood-testing machine called the “Edison,” was producing results so inaccurate that the company stopped using it for a large majority of its tests.
Due to the inaccuracy of the Edison, Theranos decided to not use the machine during federally mandated proficiency tests carried out by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services even though they were actively using the machine at the time.
Theranos admitted to reporter John Carreyrou that the Edison—the machine that got Holmes named one of the five “visionary tech entrepreneurs who are changing the world” by the New York Times—was used for less than 10 percent of the company’s tests in 2014.
The revelations are quickly unraveling the success that Theranos had built.
Carreyrou reported on Tuesday that Safeway Inc., which spent $350 million to put Theranos clinics in its stores, has begun negotiations to dissolve its partnership with Theranos. Walgreens halted development of Theranos blood-testing stations that it was putting in its stores just a week after the initial report.
Theranos has claimed that the Wall Street Journal report on its Safeway deal is “inaccurate, misleading and defamatory.”
Theranos did not respond to a request for it to elaborate on the extent of Jennings’ involvement with the company.
Jennings worked closely with Hillary Clinton when she attempted reform the health care system at the beginning of her husband’s first term and now serves as an “informal adviser” to her presidential campaign.
Asked whether he would ever return to the White House, Jennings told Congressional Quarterly that “HRC knows” that he “always … will be on call for her wherever she decides she can best serve.”
The Clinton campaign also did not respond to a request for comment.