If you’ve seen The Dropout — Hulu’s new series that tells a dramatized story of Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes — you may be wondering if the former CEO of the now-shuttered biotech company really faked results on her blood-testing machine while demonstrating it to potential investors.
In Episode 2 of The Dropout, Holmes (Amanda Seyfried) goes on a trip to Switzerland in 2006 with the goal of securing a deal with the pharmaceutical company Novartis. Before she and her team left for the trip, the finicky Theranos 1.0 machine successfully transmitted a blood test result. But the night before the meeting, the machine suddenly stopped working. So, after a sleepless night of trial and error, Holmes came up with an unorthodox solution — to have her team back in California send over the result of a previous test during the meeting with Novartis in order to mask the fact that the machine was unable to produce a reliable reading.
The episode of The Dropout is fairly consistent with the facts laid out in John Carreyrou’s book Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup, though some characters in the show have different names than the Theranos employees involved in real life. (Carreyrou, who began investigating Theranos in 2015 while working at the Wall Street Journal, actually appears in The Dropout as played by Ebon Moss-Bachrach).
In Bad Blood, Carreyrou writes about how Theranos co-founder Shaunak Roy (renamed Rakesh Madhava in the show and played by Utkarsh Ambudkar) was confronted by Henry Mosley, Theranos’ chief financial officer, about what had happened in Switzerland to make the employees who were on the trip seem so glum after successfully securing a multi-million dollar funding round. In The Dropout, it’s Theranos engineer Edmond Ku (played by James Hiroyuki Liao) who expresses misgivings about faking the demos.
“Shaunak gradually let down his guard and allowed that the Theranos 1.0, as Elizabeth had christened the blood-testing system, didn’t always work. It was kind of a crapshoot, actually, he said. Sometimes you could coax a result from it and sometimes you couldn’t,” Carreyrou writes.
“You never knew whether you were going to get a result or not. So they’d recorded a result from one of the times it worked. It was that recorded result that was displayed at the end of each demo.”
It’s also true that the Theranos team stayed up all night in Switzerland to try to make the machine work — though Carreyrou doesn’t specify whether Holmes herself actually stayed up or if it was just her employees.
“One of the two readers Elizabeth took to Switzerland had malfunctioned when they got there. The employees she brought with her had stayed up all night trying to get it to work. To mask the problem during the demo the next morning, Tim Kemp’s team in California had beamed over a fake result,” Carreyrou writes. Kemp is a former IBM executive who was in charge of bioinformatics, a.k.a. software, at Theranos.
At her trial in January, Holmes was found guilty of four out of 11 charges filed against her, including one count of conspiracy to defraud and three counts of wire fraud against investors, according to The Guardian.
However, Holmes took the stand at her own trial to argue that she made decisions in good faith and did not knowingly commit fraud.
She was acquitted of three charges, including one of conspiracy to defraud patients and two charges related to patients who received inaccurate test results. One of the remaining four charges was thrown out earlier in the trial and the jury could not reach a verdict on three counts of deceiving investors. Holmes is currently out on bail and is still awaiting her sentencing, where she faces up to 20 years in prison for each of the four charges on which she was found guilty.
The trial for her former business and romantic partner, Sunny Balwani, began last week.
The first four episodes of The Dropout are now streaming on Hulu.
Main Image: Elizabeth Holmes (Amanda Seyfried), in The Dropout. (Photo by: Beth Dubber/Hulu)