In a recent post, I reported how members of the Theranos Scientific Advisory Board had not responded to requests for interviews from a journalist despite the stated goal of the company to forge ties between itself and the scientific community (see: More Discussion About the Theranos Scientific Advisory Board). At the end of my post, I remarked the following: There are two very basic rules for IVD companies and reference labs: (1) generate accurate test results; and (2) respect the rules of the FDA. Dr. Brian Jackson submitted the following very relevant comment with an additional item for this list:
And there's one very basic rule for being a scientist: be transparent with the rest of the scientific community. Sometimes secrecy is necessary in very focused areas. But when you extend that secrecy to everything about a company, you're no longer following the professional norms of science.
There are a number of policies and actions that I think have haunted Theranos from the beginning although it's still in business. As emphasized by Dr. Jackson, its lack of transparency (i.e, its secrecy) has been a major misstep. I have concluded from my readings over the past months that this policy seems to have flowed from the views of the founder, Elizabeth Holmes. Her justification for this lack of transparency has always been that competitors would steal her corporate secrets and technology. We now understand that her company was simply not in possession of any mature or commercially viable technology. One is then left with the impression that the lack of transparency was a subterfuge to raise money from investors and buoy up the company's closely held stock.
What could have been gained by allowing members of the Theranos Scientific Advisory Board to meet with the press based on this recent request? Probably very little at this stage. However, such a meeting could have been an opportunity for the Board members to discuss their scientific and medical backgrounds. In addition, they could have emphasized that they were helping the company and its founder/CEO to follow what Dr. Jackson refers to above as the "professional norms of science." Instead, I suspect they were instructed not to speak to the press at all, continuing the "code of silence" that has been the norm in the past. One more missed opportunity.