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Theranos founder wooed believers in ‘parallel universe’

Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes made grand promises — scoffed at by critics, but believed by her backers

For critics outside the orbit of fallen US biotech star Elizabeth Holmes, her pledges of a medical revolution reeked of quackery. But the faith of close backers — from a future Pentagon chief to a lab scientist — was very real.

“I thought it was going to be the next Apple,” Adam Rosendorff, one-time laboratory head at Holmes’s now-defunct blood testing startup Theranos said at her Silicon Valley fraud trial on Friday.

Today, she faces decades in prison if convicted of swindling investors with machines thatdid not work, but in 2003 at age 19, Holmes founded Theranos with the promise of a bewildering range of analyses on just a few blood drops.

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“This was something so new, I was frankly amazed at what was possible, based on what Miss Holmes said,” Mattis told the jury on Thursday, saying he met her after a 2011 speech.

He put in $85,000 of his own money and accepted her offer to join the company’s board.

For experts in the biotech field, the starry line-up of backers, including Henry Kissinger and Rupert Murdoch, and devotion to unproven technology was mystifying.

Silicon Valley journalist Kara Swisher was more pointed in a New York Times opinion piece: “I have been on the receiving end of a lot of… silly exaggerations from entrepreneurs over the years, but Holmes seemed to take the mendacity a step further.”

Yet before that Holmes wowed people with her presentations — Mattis called her “sharp, articulate, committed”.

Holmes was also known for her clinical manner and intense unbroken eye contact that Carreyou, the Journal reporter, described in his book about Theranos as “almost hypnotic”.

As problems mounted with the Theranos testing equipment and staffers began to press her to hold off on launching the machines, the facade began to crack.

He eventually left the company, disillusioned and thinking Theranos cared more about public relations than patients.

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