On August 3, Theranos whistleblower Tyler Shultz appeared on the TODAY show to express his concerns over the rush to create a vaccine for COVID-19.
In 2015, Shultz blew the whistle on the blood-testing company Theranos after raising concerns internally that were met with hostility. He “sent a complaint about the company potentially manipulating its quality-control checks to a New York state public health lab under a pseudonym,” according to a Forbes article. His disclosures drew attention to the company’s flaws, and Theranos became embroiled in scandal. The false claims CEO Elizabeth Holmes made about the blood testing device and mechanisms were exposed.
On his TODAY show appearance, Shultz discussed his recent article in Medium discussing the development of a COVID-19 vaccine. “I am worried that we are creating an environment that facilitates many of the same mistakes Theranos made,” writes Shultz. He mentions the coronavirus tests that the CDC rolled out hastily, only to find out about test result issues after their release and recalls his experience at Theranos. “Our worst and most pervasive sin was a simple one: cutting corners,” writes Shultz. He also delves into the science of the testing mechanisms and expresses optimism paired with caution in developing a vaccine: “I hope the diagnostic community can rise to the occasion as health care professionals and frontline workers have during this pandemic.”
When questioned about the dangers of rushing towards developing tests and a vaccine, Shultz responded, “So, with anything, you know, the danger of moving too fast is that you cut corners. And that’s a lot of what we did at Theranos, actually, you know, we were trying to develop tests as quickly as we could, there was a lot of money on the line, so we just started cutting corners, evading regulations, and a lot of those conditions that allowed Theranos to grow…remind me of the conditions that exist today.” He mentioned the stimulus money and financial incentives on the line for development of “both diagnostics and vaccines,” and the fact that moving “at warp speed” towards vaccines and tests could mean decreased regulations. “We already saw some failures happen on the diagnostic side, so now I’m hopeful that we’ve learned from that and the people developing the vaccines and the therapies are doing it right and moving fast without sacrificing quality.”
Shultz is now the CEO of his own diagnostics company, Flux Biosciences. He is the grandson of former Secretary of State George Shultz, who was on the board of Theranos. He stated that his relationship with the elder Shultz is gradually returning to normal after his whistleblowing.
Watch a 2018 interview with Shultz hosted by Santa Clara University.
Watch the trailer for HBO documentary The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley, directed by Alex Gibney.
Read the 2018 Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) press release on Holmes and Balwani’s charges of fraud.