Lyman BioPharma Consulting LLC

Advice and Resources for the Biotech Industry

Advice and Resources for the Biotech Industry

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Summer Reading List 2019


Photo Credit: Josh Lyman


Summer Reading List 2019

It’s time once again for my annual roundup of some of the best books I read this year. As usual, my focus is mostly on nonfiction tales from the world of science, medicine, and technology. A master list of all books that I recommend can be found here, and you can also check out my previous book recommendations from 2018, 2017, 2016, and 2015.

I couldn’t wait to read John Carryrou’s detailed expose about biotech shooting star Theranos Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup (2018), and it didn’t disappoint. This book recounts all of the sordid details of the company’s meteoric rise and spectacular flameout amid accusations of fraud, intimidation, and paranoia. It’s as engaging a read as you will find in any contemporary detective story. CEO and founder Elizabeth Holmes and her boyfriend/business partner/company enforcer Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani are the villains eventually toppled by investor lawsuits and federal civil and criminal charges. The book traces the early days of Theranos from an idea of Stanford dropout Holmes as it steadily builds itself into one of Silicon Valley’s most valuable unicorns (startups that are worth more than $1B on paper). However, the company had a fatal flaw: it was a tech company with no solid science behind it. The eventual crash and burn was inevitable, but the lies, intimidation tactics, secrecy, and bullying all add up to a terrible tale of talents wasted and patients harmed. Employee turnover was tremendous. Questioning of the company’s efforts to build a blood analyzer using finger pinpricks (instead of venous draws) were met with dismissal. Tremendous courage is displayed by former employees as well as the author, all of whom faced serious threats of financial and professional ruin at the hands of Theranos’s ultra-aggressive lawyers. What really amazed me was how many of Theranos’s investors failed to demand proof that the company’s technology actually worked. Some of them, including individuals (e.g. Betsy DeVos) and organizations (Safeway and Walgreens) lost tens of millions of dollars when this technological house of cards collapsed. The story also illustrates the danger in having a board of directors (made up almost entirely of political movers and shakers) who knew absolutely nothing about science and biotech. It’s a well-told cautionary tale for entrepreneurs, biotech investors, and those who seek employment at these types of companies.
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