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Commentary: Despite Doubts Raised On Theranos, Great Need For Quick Diagnoses

Elizabeth Holmes is CEO of Theranos. (Greg Allen/Invision/AP)

Elizabeth Holmes is CEO of Theranos. (Greg Allen/Invision/AP)

It may be the most dramatic story to emerge yet from the booming biotech sector: the young billionaire in the black, Jobs-like turtleneck who was first touted as the “$9-billion woman” but has come under increasing fire recently for indications that her mysterious technology is not all she cracked it up to be.

In particular, The Wall Street Journal last week raised new doubts about Elizabeth Holmes’ company, Theranos, in a major investigative piece — prompting the company to respond that the story was “factually and scientifically erroneous.”

In the guest commentary below, three experts comment on the Theranos story as a reflection of the burgeoning field of “point-of-care” diagnostics. To understand how Theranos became so hot so fast, they write, it helps to understand the tremendous need for quick, on-the-spot tests for diseases from Ebola to strep throat.

By Drs. Catherine Klapperich, Charlotte Gaydos and John Parrish
Guest contributors

The recent news that the multibillion-dollar health care startup Theranos has potentially been overselling its ability to perform fast, “point-of-care” diagnostic testing using only a drop of a patient’s blood is disappointing to many test developers and health care providers.

Part of the reason CEO Elizabeth Holmes was able to raise an astonishing $400 million of investment money was due to the escalating demand from both health care providers and consumers for fast and reliable diagnostic testing that could be used in doctor’s offices, in the field, or even at home by patients themselves.

Simple-to-use cartridges, like today’s drugstore pregnancy tests, could be engineered to test for and monitor a variety of different conditions at much lower prices than similar tests that require samples to be sent off to a central lab with expensive equipment and highly skilled staff.

What if a colonoscopy or a mammogram could be replaced by a diagnostic blood test?

Technologies like these, often called point-of-care technologies, have the potential to revolutionize how we practice health care, both in this country and around the world.

In the United States, health care costs are rising, and expensive and overused clinical tests are often high-cost culprits. The effective use of point-of-care testing has the potential to lower these costs and to improve patient outcomes.

What if a colonoscopy or a mammogram could be replaced by a diagnostic blood test? The CDC reported in 2013 that more than 30 percent of adults in the U.S. aged 50-75 had not been tested for colorectal cancer as recommended. Imagine the office visits, patient inconvenience and human resources that could be saved if such a test were reliable, simple and routine. Continue reading

Novartis Expands By $600m in Cambridge

Always nice to hear anything that smacks of economic growth these days. WBUR’s Curt Nickisch reports:

BOSTON — Novartis has announced a $600 million expansion of its Cambridge campus, where it’s already the city’s largest corporate employer.

The Swiss drugmaker currently employs 2,000 people in 1 million square feet of laboratory and office space at Kendall Square. Now Novartis plans to expand that by 40 percent, adding another 300 jobs.

Mark Fishman, president of the biomedical research campus, says it’s important to be close to universities and other pharmaceutical companies.

“You wander down the street to a seminar or you have lunch with somebody,” Fishman says. “Makes a big difference.”

Fishman says Novartis is not getting any new tax incentives, but will apply for existing tax breaks from the the state’s life sciences initiative. Continue reading