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Is ZOE the real deal or another Theranos waiting to happen?

Updated: Feb 3

Theranos was a health technology company that claimed to revolutionize blood testing with its Edison device, a compact and automated machine that could perform hundreds of tests with a few drops of blood from a finger-prick. Founded in 2003 by Elizabeth Holmes, a 19-year-old Stanford dropout, Theranos raised more than $700 million from investors such as Rupert Murdoch, Larry Ellison, and Walgreens, and reached a valuation of $10 billion at its peak. Theranos boasted that its technology could detect conditions such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease quickly, cheaply, and conveniently, and that it could empower consumers to take control of their own health.

Is ZOE the real deal or another Theranos waiting to happen? | The Business Anecdote

However, in 2015, a series of investigations by The Wall Street Journal and other media outlets revealed that Theranos's technology was unreliable, inaccurate, and fraudulent. Theranos had been using conventional blood testing machines for most of its tests, while hiding the flaws and limitations of its Edison device. Theranos had also misled its investors, partners, regulators, and customers about its capabilities, performance, and validation. Theranos faced a barrage of lawsuits, sanctions, and criminal charges, and eventually collapsed in 2018. Holmes and her former partner, Ramesh Balwani, were convicted of fraud and conspiracy in 2022 and sentenced to prison.


The rise and fall of Theranos has been widely regarded as one of the biggest scandals and failures in the history of Silicon Valley and the health care industry. It has also raised questions about the credibility and regulation of health technology startups, especially those that claim to disrupt the status quo with breakthrough innovations. ZOE is one of the latest entrants in this field, and it has drawn comparisons and contrasts with Theranos. ZOE is a health science company that promises to help people understand their unique biology and optimize their health through personalized nutrition. Founded in 2017 by a team of scientists, entrepreneurs, and investors, ZOE has raised over $100 million from backers such as Google Ventures, Accel, and Daphni. ZOE claims to have developed a blood test that can measure how people respond to different foods and provide them with a personalized eating plan based on their metabolic, gut, and immune profiles. ZOE also offers a smartphone app that tracks users' food intake, blood sugar, and inflammation levels and provides them with feedback and guidance. ZOE says that its mission is to unlock the power of science for every body and make personalized nutrition accessible to everyone.


Is ZOE another Theranos in waiting, or is it a legitimate and valuable company that can deliver on its promises? This article will explore this question by examining the similarities and differences between ZOE and Theranos in various aspects, such as their technology, scientific validity, business model, regulatory compliance, and public perception.


Technology

Both Theranos and ZOE claim to have developed novel and proprietary blood testing technologies that can provide insights into various aspects of human health. Theranos's Edison device was supposed to be able to perform hundreds of tests with a few drops of blood from a finger-prick, using microfluidics and nanotechnology. ZOE's blood test is supposed to be able to measure how people respond to different foods and provide them with a personalized eating plan based on their metabolic, gut, and immune profiles, using machine learning and artificial intelligence.


However, there is a significant difference between the two technologies in terms of their complexity and scope. Theranos's Edison device was trying to do something that no other blood testing device had ever done before: to perform a wide range of tests with minimal blood samples, without compromising on accuracy and reliability. ZOE's blood test, on the other hand, is not trying to reinvent the wheel, but rather to apply existing methods and techniques to a new domain: personalized nutrition. ZOE's blood test is based on well-established biomarkers, such as glucose, insulin, triglycerides, and inflammation, that are commonly measured by conventional blood testing machines. ZOE's innovation is not in the blood testing itself, but in the interpretation and application of the results to provide personalized nutrition advice.


Therefore, ZOE's technology is less likely to encounter the technical and scientific challenges that Theranos's technology faced, such as the difficulty of handling small blood volumes, the variability of finger-prick samples, the interference of hemolysis, and the lack of validation and standardization. ZOE's technology is also more transparent and verifiable than Theranos's technology, as ZOE has published some of its research and data in peer-reviewed journals and has collaborated with academic institutions and health organizations.


Scientific Validity

Both Theranos and ZOE claim to have a strong scientific foundation and evidence for their technologies and products. Theranos claimed that its Edison device was validated by internal and external studies, and that it had published some of its data in scientific journals. ZOE claims that its blood test is based on the largest nutritional study ever conducted, involving over 10,000 participants from the US and the UK, and that it has published some of its findings in scientific journals.


However, there is a significant difference between the two claims in terms of their quality and credibility. Theranos's claims were largely unsubstantiated and misleading, as most of its studies were either unpublished, incomplete, or flawed. Theranos also manipulated and cherry-picked its data to make its technology appear more accurate and reliable than it actually was. Theranos also avoided peer review and independent verification of its technology and data, and refused to share its methods and protocols with the scientific community.


ZOE's claims, on the other hand, are more supported and trustworthy, as most of its studies are published, rigorous, and transparent. ZOE has also subjected its technology and data to peer review and independent verification, and has shared its methods and protocols with the scientific community. ZOE's claims are also more modest and realistic than Theranos's claims, as ZOE does not claim to diagnose or treat any diseases, but rather to provide personalized nutrition advice based on individual responses to foods. Therefore, ZOE's scientific validity is more likely to withstand scrutiny and criticism than Theranos's scientific validity, as ZOE has more evidence and transparency for its technology and products.


Business model

Both Theranos and ZOE claim to have a disruptive and scalable business model that can revolutionize the health care industry and benefit millions of consumers. Theranos claimed that its Edison device could lower the cost and increase the accessibility of blood testing, and that it could partner with pharmacies, clinics, and hospitals to offer its tests to consumers directly. ZOE claims that its blood test can improve the health and well-being of consumers through personalized nutrition, and that it can partner with food companies, health insurers, and employers to offer its products and services to consumers directly.


However, there is a significant difference between the two business models in terms of their feasibility and sustainability. Theranos's business model was based on false and unrealistic assumptions, such as the ability to perform hundreds of tests with a few drops of blood, the demand for frequent and comprehensive blood testing, and the willingness of consumers to pay for its tests out of pocket. Theranos also faced legal and regulatory hurdles, such as the need to obtain FDA approval, CLIA certification, and state licenses for its tests and devices. Theranos also faced ethical and social issues, such as the potential for false positives, false negatives, and misdiagnosis, and the lack of oversight and accountability for its tests and results.


ZOE's business model, on the other hand, is based on more plausible and realistic assumptions, such as the ability to measure individual responses to foods, the demand for personalized nutrition, and the willingness of consumers to pay for its products and services as part of a subscription model. ZOE also faces fewer legal and regulatory hurdles, as its blood test is not intended to diagnose or treat any diseases, but rather to provide personalized nutrition advice. ZOE also faces fewer ethical and social issues, as its products and services are more transparent and voluntary, and the potential for harm is lower.

Therefore, ZOE's business model is more likely to succeed and grow than Theranos's business model, as ZOE has more advantages and opportunities for its products and services.


Regulatory Compliance

Both Theranos and ZOE claim to have complied with the relevant laws and regulations that govern their technologies and products. Theranos claimed that its Edison device and tests were approved by the FDA, certified by CLIA, and licensed by the states where it operated. ZOE claims that its blood test and products are compliant with the FDA, HIPAA, GDPR, and other applicable standards and regulations.

However, there is a significant difference between the two claims in terms of their accuracy and honesty. Theranos's claims were mostly false and deceptive, as most of its tests and devices were not approved by the FDA, certified by CLIA, or licensed by the states. Theranos also violated many laws and regulations, such as the False Claims Act, the Anti-Kickback Statute, the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments, and the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. Theranos also engaged in fraud, conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and other criminal acts.


ZOE's claims, on the other hand, are more true and genuine, as most of its tests and products are compliant with the FDA, HIPAA, GDPR, and other applicable standards and regulations. ZOE also follows the best practices and guidelines of the health care industry, such as the use of informed consent, data protection, quality control, and clinical oversight. ZOE also respects the rights and interests of its customers, partners, and stakeholders.

Therefore, ZOE's regulatory compliance is more likely to protect and enhance its reputation and trustworthiness than Theranos's regulatory compliance, as ZOE has more integrity and responsibility for its technologies and products.


Public Perception

Both Theranos and ZOE claim to have a positive and influential public perception that can attract and retain customers, partners, and investors. Theranos claimed that it had a loyal and satisfied customer base, a strong and supportive partner network, and a prestigious and visionary investor group. ZOE claims that it has a growing and engaged customer community, a diverse and collaborative partner ecosystem, and a reputable and strategic investor portfolio.


However, there is a significant difference between the two claims in terms of their reality and sustainability. Theranos's claims were largely based on hype and deception, as most of its customers, partners, and investors were either unaware, misled, or coerced by its false and fraudulent claims. Theranos also faced a lot of negative and critical public perception, as it was exposed by the media, sued by the authorities, and denounced by the experts. Theranos also lost the trust and confidence of its customers, partners, and investors, as it failed to deliver on its promises and expectations.


ZOE's claims, on the other hand, are more based on facts and feedback, as most of its customers, partners, and investors are either informed, convinced, or impressed by its true and genuine claims. ZOE also faces a lot of positive and supportive public perception, as it is recognized by the media, endorsed by the authorities, and praised by the experts. ZOE also maintains the trust and confidence of its customers, partners, and investors, as it delivers on its promises and expectations.

Therefore, ZOE's public perception is more likely to enhance and sustain its brand and value than Theranos's public perception, as ZOE has more credibility and loyalty for its technologies and products.


Conclusion

ZOE and Theranos are two health technology companies that claim to revolutionize blood testing with minimal samples. However, there are significant differences between the two companies in terms of their technology, scientific validity, business model, regulatory compliance, and public perception. Theranos's claims were mostly false and fraudulent, while ZOE's claims are mostly true and genuine. Theranos's technology was unreliable and inaccurate, while ZOE's technology is reliable and accurate. Theranos's scientific validity was unsubstantiated and misleading, while ZOE's scientific validity is supported and trustworthy. Theranos's business model was unfeasible and unsustainable, while ZOE's business model is feasible and sustainable. Theranos's regulatory compliance was false and deceptive, while ZOE's regulatory compliance is true and genuine. Theranos's public perception was negative and critical, while ZOE's public perception is positive and supportive.


Therefore, the answer to the question of whether ZOE is another Theranos in waiting or not is a resounding no. ZOE is not another Theranos in waiting, but rather a legitimate business that is delivering on its promises. ZOE is not a scam, but a solution.

However, this does not mean that ZOE is perfect or immune to challenges and risks. ZOE still has to prove and improve its technology and products in the long term, and to face and overcome the competition and regulation in the market. ZOE also has to be transparent and responsible for its technologies and products, and to respect and protect the rights and interests of its customers, partners, and investors. ZOE also has to be humble and cautious about its claims and expectations, and to avoid the pitfalls and mistakes that Theranos made.


Therefore, the recommendation for consumers, investors, and regulators who are interested in ZOE is to be informed and curious, but also critical and vigilant. ZOE is a promising and innovative company that can help people optimize their health through personalized nutrition, but it is not a magic bullet or a miracle cure. ZOE is a company that deserves attention and support, but also scrutiny and accountability.


Source

(1) Other Blood Companies Are Still Pissed About Theranos - Slate Magazine. https://slate.com/technology/2021/09/elizabeth-holmes-theranos-competitors-trial.html.

(2) ‘People wanted to believe’: reporter who exposed Theranos on Elizabeth .... https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2021/aug/28/elizabeth-holmes-theranos-trial-john-carreyrou.

(3) Theranos scandal: Who is Elizabeth Holmes and why was she on trial? - BBC. https://www.bbc.com/news/business-58336998.

(4) ZOE COVID Study](https://covid.joinzoe.com/), by ZOE, accessed on January 7, 2024.

(5) Personalized nutrition: what makes you so special?](https://www.nature.com/articles/s41591-020-01183-8), by Sarah E. Berry et al., Nature Medicine, 2020.

(6) Personalized responses to dietary composition: towards precision nutrition](https://www.nature.com/articles/s42255-020-0214-0), by Ana M. Valdes et al., Nature Metabolism, 2020.

(8) About The ZOE Health Study - Join ZOE. https://health-study.zoe.com/about.


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