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Walgreens is immediately closing all Theranos blood test centers in its stores

Just a year ago, Theranos was the darling of the medical device industry. After years in stealth mode, the company debuted its custom blood test in 2013 with the pitch that it needed only a few drops of blood to test for a plethora of diseases and health metrics. This swayed Walgreens to begin offering Theranos testing in some of its stores. Amid increasing scrutiny of Theranos, Walgreens has now pulled out. It’s just the latest in a series of major setbacks that could bring down this once-promising company.

Theranos was founded by Elizabeth Holmes in 2003, who has herself become something of a phenomenon in tech circles. She dropped out of college to start Theranos and raised millions of dollars to get the company up and running. Until just recently, she was believed to be worth over a billion dollars at the ripe old age of 32. However, that was before Theranos’ Edison testing technology came under increased scrutiny.

The Edison devices are supposed to allow a small volume of blood to be separated with microfluidics and tested automatically. It only requires a few milliliters of blood, whereas conventional tests would require a whole vial of blood drawn with a needle. That could make testing faster and cheaper…if it worked. The first hints of trouble came late last year when reports began surfacing about the accuracy of Edison tests. Researchers have also had trouble validating and reproducing the science used by Theranos. Then, the government’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) identified numerous testing and manufacturing errors at Theranos.

theranos

The company’s value has plummeted from an estimated $9 billion to just $800 million in recent months, but Walgreens has stood by its investment in Theranos until now. Theranos recently voided all Edison results produced in 2014 and 2015, but that wasn’t enough for the CMS. The CMS rejected Theranos’ plan to fix its testing and manufacturing issues, and the company now faces sanctions. In light of this, Walgreens says it is immediately closing all 40 of the Theranos testing centers in its stores. That leaves Theranos with just a handful of its own retail testing storefronts in Arizona and California, but government action may soon force the closure of those too.

Everyone wanted the believe that a Silicon Valley startup could come into a mature and sluggish industry like medical testing to disrupt it. That’s something that’s sorely needed, after all. Even Walgreens was happy to get in on the ground floor without proof the technology was accurate. Now, it’s trying to back away, and that might signal the beginning of the end for Theranos.

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