The sad, strange Theranos saga has typically made strong showings on our past annual lists of FierceMedtech’s most-read stories—but this year, barring the unforeseeable, will be its last, as the company finally bled dry this September and announced plans for liquidation.
Once valued at more than $9 billion, the Silicon Valley cautionary tale will formally disband over the coming months, paying out its final $5 million in cash to the last people holding the bill.
Three of this year’s top 10 biggest stories center on Theranos’ meteoric story and its aftermath, with our book review of John Carreyrou’s chronicle taking the top spot.
To the biotech insider, "Bad Blood" reads like your favorite cult horror flick: You may know the players and what comes next, but that doesn’t stop you from urging them on or yelling at the screen from your seat, popcorn in hand.
As told by the Wall Street Journal reporter who kept close watch from the company’s beginning, Carreyrou’s book follows Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes and her trip from childhood to college to cover stories—and deftly unravels the company’s promises of running dozens of tests from a few drops of blood, while profiling its toxic company culture.
Behind that follow two stories of consumer-oriented tech companies making big splashes as they enter the healthcare space: Apple, with its new heart-testing watch, and speaker manufacturer Bose, with its direct-to-consumer hearing aid.
The electrocardiogram functionality of the latest Apple Watch recently went live, after its de novo FDA clearance was announced at the Cupertino company’s September media event. The watch also includes new accelerometer and gyroscope hardware, which Apple says allows it to detect hard falls and call for help. That, along with the on-demand ECG, appear to be aimed at an older generation of users—a move to make the watch more than a must-have for tech-focused millennial set.
Meanwhile, Bose received its own FDA green light for the first hearing aid that allows users to fit, program and control the device on their own from a smartphone app, without help from a healthcare provider. Its de novo clearance may open the door for other consumer-focused companies looking to follow suit.
In fourth, a latecomer to the list: this month’s story on Australian researchers using water and gold to develop a “universal cancer biomarker” test that could be performed in under 10 minutes using the naked eye. Scientists at the University of Queensland found that circulating tumor DNA fragments fold into 3D shapes different than DNA from healthy cells when placed in water. Those structures can stick to bare metal surfaces such as gold, and change the color of the solution, in what has to be seen (and studied further).
Our fifth story centers on reports of Stryker’s quiet offer to buy out Boston Scientific, a merger that would create a medtech behemoth out of largely complementary portfolios, not to mention reap $21.5 billion in annual revenues with a market cap to rival Medtronic’s. While it hasn’t yet come to pass, Boston Scientific makes another appearance on our list.
But first, September’s news that Theranos will exit the stage. According to the WSJ, the company had searched for a potential buyer for months, courting more than 80 before coming up empty. Most of its last two dozen employees were let go at the end of August, with just its top lawyer and a few support staff staying behind to clean up what was left.
At number seven is Boston Scientific and its blockbuster deal to absorb BTG for $4.2 billion in cash—acquiring a pipeline that could transform the medtech giant’s oncology franchise into a $500 million interventional therapy business. In addition, 90% of London-based BTG’s revenues come from the U.S.—and with Boston Scientific making about 43% of its money overseas, it sees a sizable opportunity to pull BTG’s products up through its global network and into new markets.
Rounding out 2018’s Theranos coverage, and eighth on our list, the perennial story of who lost the most cash in the company—with unsealed documents detailing exactly how much the Murdoch, DeVos and Walmart family clans parted with, to the tune of over $100 million each.
Number nine dives into the FDA’s final guidance on integrating electronic health records into clinical trials, including the use of patient medical histories, pharmacy records, radiology scans and lab test results from routine care, as well as from foreign clinical sites. The document urges sponsors, vendors and healthcare organizations to make EHRs interoperable and integrate with data capture systems, while meeting the agency’s recordkeeping requirements.
And finally, a classic medical device story, with April’s news that CVS Health has begun development on a simple, at-home dialysis machine. The pharmacy chain plans to begin clinical trials with a view to securing FDA approval and entering the market by the end of 2020.
We’ll be back Jan. 2, after a short newsletter hiatus. But check in over the holidays, if you can, to see what news is breaking. Have any tips? Thoughts to share? Feel free to reach out, now and in 2019, and we'll see you in the new year!
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