Ian Gibbons (biochemist)

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Ian Gibbons
Born6 March 1946
Died23 May 2013 (aged 67)
Portola Valley, California, U.S.
Alma materUniversity of Cambridge
OccupationChief Scientist, Theranos

Ian Gibbons was a biochemist and was the chief scientist of Theranos, a health technology company infamous for its false claims to have devised blood tests that needed small amounts of blood.[1]

Education and early career[edit]

Gibbons was British and held a PhD in biochemistry from the University of Cambridge.[1] He spent 30 years working on diagnostic and therapeutic products at various technology concerns including Biotrack Laboratories. At Biotrack, he worked with Channing Robertson, who later recommended him as the first experienced scientist hired by Theranos. Gibbons, Robertson and others invented and patented a mechanism at Biotrack to dilute and mix liquid samples, abilities which would become key in Theranos processes.[1][2]

Employment at Theranos[edit]

Brought in by CEO Elizabeth Holmes in 2005 as the company's chief scientist,[3] Gibbons was the first experienced scientist hired,[1] with the title senior director, Assay Development.[4]

Issues with company culture[edit]

As chief scientist within Theranos, Gibbons often gave the staff informal lectures on biochemistry and the science of blood testing. To ensure product success, Gibbons insisted that blood test results from Theranos developmental devices match benchmark results of competitors' commercial analyzers. Theranos' devices often became a source of frustration for Gibbons, as they differed, sometimes significantly, from the benchmarks. His high standards became a source of friction with Theranos engineers and senior management. Senior management warned employees who questioned the accuracy of the technology.[3] As a result of his desperation, Gibbons confided to his wife that "nothing at Theranos is working".[1] Holmes' practice of discouraging communication between departments also troubled Gibbons. The reason given for such information siloing was that the company was operating in stealth mode to protect its trade secrets.[3] However, it prevented effective problem solving and pursuance of common goals between employees.

With an insider perspective, Gibbons knew of Holmes' lies to employees and outsiders about Theranos' technology and readiness, as well as false demonstrations to clients. Thus, Gibbons no longer trusted Holmes. However, he continued to struggle to make the flawed Theranos technology catch up to the hype.[5][1]

In the fall of 2010, Holmes was alerted of Gibbons' complaints and frustrations, and he was fired. Several of his colleagues lobbied on his behalf, and he was quickly rehired; with reduced responsibilities, as a technical consultant to the chemistry group he formerly headed.[3]

Patent dispute[edit]

Inventor-entrepreneur Richard Fuisz was a former friend and next-door neighbor of the Holmes family. The two families had fallen out, and Fuisz's offer to help Holmes with her invention had been declined.[6] Fuisz studied all that was publicly available regarding the Theranos technology, and identified a desirable but missing feature. He filed a patent for a physician-alert mechanism that could be embedded in Theranos devices, something that would complicate Holmes' vision of putting the devices directly into consumer homes. When Theranos learned of the filing, it sued Fuisz, alleging patent theft.[3][1]

Gibbons was named as co-inventor with Holmes on many Theranos patents. When researching his defense to the Theranos lawsuit, Fuisz noticed similarities between Gibbons' patents at Biotrack and recent Theranos patents. Suspecting improper reuse of past work, he added Gibbons' name to his list of witnesses to be deposed.

When Gibbons learned that he would be subpoenaed to testify, he became nervous and depressed. He wanted to avoid being deposed, afraid his job depended on his testimony. Gibbons believed that if he told the truth, he would lose his job, hurt future job prospects, and harm himself, his coworkers and Theranos itself. However, he believed that if he lied, patients using Theranos technology would be exposed to misdiagnosis, danger, or even death.[1]

Death[edit]

On May 15, 2013, Gibbons was notified to appear at the Fuisz lawyers' offices on May 17 to give a deposition. Theranos had been actively discouraging him from testifying, and thus, a Theranos lawyer emailed him a draft doctor's note that could be adapted to excuse him. On the evening of May 16, Gibbons took a massive overdose of acetaminophen. The following morning, he was discovered on the bathroom floor by his wife, to be unconscious and barely breathing. He died in the hospital on May 23, 2013, his liver destroyed. When his wife called Holmes' office to report his death, she received not a callback from Holmes, but an email from a Theranos lawyer requesting she immediately return Gibbons' company laptop and any confidential information he might have had.[1]

Biography at Theranos website[edit]

In 2012, Gibbons' biography on the Theranos Management web page read:[7]

Ian Gibbons, PhD, Senior Director, Assay Development
Ian Gibbons has spent thirty years in research and development of diagnostic and therapeutic products, developing more than twenty products in five major product families. He is the author of forty published scientific articles and inventor on some sixty patents and patent applications. Before joining Theranos, Dr. Gibbons worked on Therapeutic Drug Monitoring, Infectious Disease Diagnostics and Novel Non-Separation Assay Technology at Syva Company. He also developed Point-of-Care Assays for Monitoring Drugs for Biotrack, A Hematopoietic Stem Cell Purification System for AmCell, and A Multiplexed Assay System for Hospital Point-of-Care Diagnosis and Prognosis at First Medical. Ian received both a BA and MA in Biochemistry and Chemistry and a PhD in Biochemistry from Cambridge University in England.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Carreyrou, John (21 May 2018). Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup. Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 978-1524731656.
  2. ^ Gibbons, Ian; Hillman, Robert S.; Robertson, Channing R.; Allen, Jimmy D. (1990-08-07). "United States Patent: 4946795 - Apparatus and method for dilution and mixing of liquid samples". US Patent and Trademark Office. Retrieved 2018-07-23.
  3. ^ a b c d e Bilton, Nick (6 September 2016). "Exclusive: How Elizabeth Holmes's House of Cards Came Tumbling Down". Vanity Fair. Retrieved 1 June 2018.
  4. ^ "A Presentation For Investors" (Investor pitch slide show). SlideShare. 1 June 2006. Retrieved 7 June 2018.
  5. ^ Mole, Beth (23 November 2016). "Beyond business: Disgraced Theranos bloodied family, friends, neighbors". Ars Technica. Retrieved 11 June 2018.
  6. ^ Cassens Weiss, Debra (14 March 2014). "Patent theft suit blames former McDermott partner; defense sees 'smoke and mirrors'". ABA Journal. Retrieved 11 June 2018.
  7. ^ "Management". Theranos.com. 2012.