Surekha Gangakhedhar worked at Theranos from 2005 to 2013 and reported directly to Holmes at one point. She testified on Friday that Holmes allegedly pressured her to validate blood test results to speed up a rollout of the Edison device to several Walgreens locations despite its inaccuracies, CNBC reports.
Gangakhedkar said that she returned from a vacation in August 2013 to discover that the company was on track to launch the Edison 3.0 and 3.5 in Walgreens stores. She resigned from the company the following month because she was uncomfortable with the pending launch and plans to test patient blood samples. Gangakhedkar met with Holmes before her resignation to discuss her concerns with the device and explained that the machines were not ready to be used on patients.
Holmes allegedly told Gangakhedkar that she made promises to Theranos’ customers and that she “didn’t have much of a choice” but to launch the Edison. Gangakhedkar printed some company emails when she left, despite signing a nondisclosure agreement, because she was worried the blame would be pushed on her if the Walgreens launch went poorly, The Washington Post reports.
Gangakhedkar alleged that Holmes, in her opinion, was aware of the accuracy issues surrounding Theranos’ Edison device.
The prosecution presented documents that showed several emails sent to and from Holmes that explained problems related to the company’s small blood testing devices that scientists saw, The Washington Post reports. Holmes’ defense attorneys filed an intent to object to Gangakhedkar’s testimony on Thursday to block the scientist from testifying how much she thought Holmes knew about lab operations and Theranos’ blood testing technology.
Prosecutors granted Gangakhedkar immunity from criminal charges in exchange for her testimony after she said she would otherwise plead the Fifth Amendment, according to multiple media reports. She is expected to testify again on Tuesday.
Former lab associate and whistleblower Erika Cheung also took the stand for a third and final day to testify that there was substantial delays in test results for patients due to frequent quality control failures in the Theranos lab. She alleged that people were sleeping in cars because it took so long to get test results and that the team had to recalibrate the machines every few days.
The defense cross-examined Cheung on Friday and brought up the number of qualified scientists who worked in the lab and the many steps of the process Theranos used to make the blood tests, according to The Washington Post.
Cheung testified on Sept. 15 that the machines the company was using to conduct patient blood tests had inaccuracies of quality control test results that would result in inaccurate patient tests. She said that some 30% of prostate cancer tests were inaccurate, and thyroid tests returned with a failure rate of more than 50%.
The prosecutors are planning to next call Daniel Edlin, a project manager who worked on the Walgreens partnership and reported directly to Holmes, CNBC reports. He was also friends with Holmes’ brother, Christian, at the time.
Holmes and her defense attorneys are still planning to present claims that Sunny Balwani, former Theranos president and Holmes’ former romantic partner, abused her emotionally and psychologically. Balwani has denied the allegations. Holmes’s attorneys have said in court papers that she could take the witness stand to describe her romantic relationship with Balwani.
Holmes and Theranos were once believed to be the next shining stars of Silicon Valley. Holmes claimed her company would revolutionize blood testing with technology that could analyze tiny amounts of blood and inked retail partnerships with Walgreens and Safeway. Forbes in 2015 recognized Holmes as America’s richest self-made woman based on Theranos’ multibillion-dollar valuation at the time.
Investigative reporting soon dismantled Holmes’ technological claims, raising questions about whether she and others misled investors. The downward spiral culminated in the 2018 shutdown of the company, with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission accusing Holmes and Balwani of what it described as a “massive fraud.”
Holmes faces 10 counts of wire fraud and two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud over allegations that she knowingly misled investors by claiming Theranos technology could revolutionize blood testing. She has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Balwani’s trial is expected to follow the Holmes trial.