Embattled startup Theranos has few friends these days.
The blood-testing startup, once valued at $9 billion, is being investigated by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the Department of Justice, and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
But when Elizabeth Holmes, Theranos' founder and CEO, speaks at the annual meeting of the American Association of Clinical Chemistry this August, she may actually face a somewhat sympathetic audience, says Dr. Patricia Jones, the president of the AACC and the clinical director of chemistry for the Children's Medical Center in Dallas.
"I've talked to all sorts of members of our organization since we announced that she's speaking," says Jones. "There's some real excitement that we're going to get to see what she's doing, and there are some who say it's all smoke and mirrors, and she's not going to show us anything."
While "everyone is concerned," Jones also says, "I think for the most part people are willing to give her the benefit of the doubt, even at this point."
That may sound surprising. But Jones points out that the people in the room at the meeting will be well-qualified to judge Holmes' presentation on its merits. There will also be a question-and-answer session following the presentation.
Jones says her own cautiously optimistic view is somewhat influenced by recent appointments to Theranos' medical and scientific advisory board, many of whom have served as board members or presidents of the AACC. "I know those members very well," she says. "If they are wiling to be on her scientific advisory board, she has something. That's why I continue to believe she is going to show us something real."
The abstract for Theranos' session states that the company will:
...present reproducibility and correlation data for various tests comparing Theranos' capillary collection and storage device [what Theranos has described as a nano-tainer] with traditional venipuncture methods. She will also discuss methodology employed for their diagnostic testing platform, and share data to demonstrate the precision and accuracy [of their tests].
The abstract also says Theranos will introduce a new test for the Zika virus.
Jones says it's notable that the abstract talks about precision and accuracy, which she says is exactly what the AACC crowd will want to hear about.
Like many, Jones would still like Theranos to publish its work in peer-reviewed journals. But she acknowledges that there's no way the company can do that and maintain a stranglehold on its intellectual property. "I know why [Holmes] approached it the way she did, but she's got to get it out there in the public and make it public knowledge," says Jones. On Aug. 1, when Holmes speaks to the AACC, we should have a better idea of whether that will ever happen.