Vice President Joseph Biden gave a shout-out to health care startup Theranos and its founder on Thursday, as he toured the company's Newark, California, facility and then made some brief remarks before an audience of about 150 Theranos employees and press.
Biden said he'd met Elizabeth Holmes (above), the founder of Theranos, at a conference about a year ago. Since then, he said, "I've been threatening Elizabeth for the past year that I'm going to take the opportunity to be shown around. Talk about being inspired! This is inspiration, man," he said.
He applauded the company for being able to dramatically cut costs while manufacturing in the United States. He also said that Theranos is at the forefront of a paradigm shift in health care, where the emphasis is moving from treating symptoms once a disease has manifested to stopping the illness before traditional symptoms are necessarily displayed.
Theranos has attracted attention for both the ambition of its mission and the precociousness of its founder. By dramatically cutting the costs and inconvenience of bloodwork, and by making results available directly to patients, Theranos is aiming to help detect disease earlier, when treatment may be more effective.
Holmes dropped out of Stanford University during her sophomore year to start the company at the age of 19. Theranos has raised more than $400 million, but Holmes still owns half of it. Theranos also boasts an all-star board, including two former U.S. Secretaries of State.
Biden also did a bit to parry what is probably the main criticism of Theranos, which is that it has not published any peer-reviewed studies of its work. When asked about this, Holmes generally says that Theranos is submitting each of its tests for FDA approval. Theranos is not required to do this, and Holmes describes FDA approval as the "gold standard" for determining efficacy and the proper use of a test. She also says that she'll release more information about her company when she determines it's time to do so, not when her competitors request it.
This strategy also provides much less information to Theranos's competitors than publication in a journal would entail. Biden didn't directly address the complaints about peer review, but said that "the fact that you're voluntarily submitting all your tests to the FDA demonstrates the confidence you have in what you're doing."
Biden also used his own family's history to illustrate the importance of detecting disease earlier. His son Beau died of cancer in May. He described the families of people with such difficult diseases as "so close to breaking," and said that "science is going to catch up ... But a big piece of that is ... changing the paradigm of [medicine], dealing with costs, and dealing with availability."