FDA Says That Theranos Discovery Strain Is Causing Other FDA Enforcement Efforts to Take a Backseat

January 16, 2020By Véronique Li, Senior Medical Device Regulation Expert & Sarah Wicks

About eighteen months ago, the government accused former Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes and former Theranos president Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani of wire fraud and conspiracy, a scheme that fooled investors into providing more than $700 million to the then-promising blood-testing startup.

In the latest development in US vs. Elizabeth Holmes et al., federal prosecutors have asked Judge Davila to extend a December 31, 2019 court-ordered discovery deadline for FDA to produce documents, which the agency failed to meet.  FDA says it needs until April 30, 2020.  We blogged about the prior court order here.  In the January 13 hearing on FDA’s extension request, the agency’s Chief Counsel, Stacy Amin, participated by phone to describe the Agency’s efforts to respond.

Ms. Amin argued that time frame had been too short to comply with the large request.  She reported that the Agency had multiple employees working at 200% of their normal capacity in an attempt to meet the court’s initial deadline of December 31, 2019.  Ms. Amin said that several employees and significant resources had been redirected to meet the demand of the court’s discovery request. These strains, she said, have caused FDA to place other regulatory activities on pause, making it difficult for the Agency to meet its public mission to protect public health.  Remarkably, she indicated that even FDA enforcement efforts have taken a backseat to this discovery, including reduced resources for the issuance of warning letters and reduced resources for seeking court injunctions in other cases.  On net, Ms. Amin indicated FDA believes document production can be completed by April 30.

In light of the trial date of August 4, 2020 (mark your calendars!), Holmes’ and Balwani’s counsel argued that April 30 still would not give them enough time to review the material prior to trial.  The prosecution blamed the defense counsel for their predicament, suggesting that the complexity of the search requests had contributed to FDA’s inability to meet the December 31 deadline.

Judge Davila did not make a ruling during the hearing and has not yet issued a written order.  Since FDA has already missed the original deadline, the judge will have to either grant the motion for an extention until April 30 or deny the motion and set a different deadline.

We will continue to provide updates on the Theranos saga as developments occur.  The next court date is February 10, 2020 where the defense’s motions to dismiss will be heard.

*Work supervised by the Firm while DC Bar application is pending