Genetic testing company blames press coverage for bankruptcy filing

Joseph Burns

About Joseph Burns

Joseph Burns (@jburns18), a Massachusetts-based independent journalist, is AHCJ’s topic leader on health insurance. He welcomes questions and suggestions on insurance resources and tip sheets at joseph@healthjournalism.org.

Charles Piller

Proove Biosciences, a genetic testing company in Irvine, Calif., was placed into court-ordered receivership at the end of August for “restructuring and asset sale.” Proove’s founder and former CEO Brian Meshkin has blamed the company’s financial problems on investigative articles that Charles Piller, West Coast editor for Stat, wrote about the company’s lead product over the last several months, according to Pillar’s coverage of the receivership proceedings.

Meshkin, who called Piller’s reporting about Proove “erroneous and damaging.” He claimed that stories were based on false allegations from disgruntled employees, ignoring that Piller also had quoted genetic testing experts skeptical of the scientific claims behind the Proove Opioid Risk test. Proove has marketed the test as a way for doctors to predict a patient’s likelihood of becoming addicted to opioids.

One quoted expert was Mary Jeanne Kreek, M.D., who is the Patrick E. and Beatrice M. Haggerty professor and senior attending physician at Rockefeller University’s Laboratory of the Biology of Addictive Diseases. In a Stat article published Dec. 13, Kreek described the Proove Opioid Risk test as “hogwash.” “Other experts described company studies to validate the test’s effectiveness in similar terms,” Piller wrote.

Earlier this year, we wrote about how Piller and other journalists have examined how patients, physicians and insurers struggle to evaluate the utility and validity of genetic tests. Piller also reported that Proove’s business practices included coercing patients to take unnecessary genetic tests, practices that experts and former employees of the genetic testing company described as unethical and possibly illegal.

Proove in June became the subject of a criminal investigation, with 25 FBI agents and officers from the inspector general’s office of the federal Department of Health and Human Services raiding the company’s headquarters and carting off truckloads of documents. Piller’s coverage of the raid noted that “Proove and many of its affiliated doctors operated in ways that could violate federal and state anti-kickback laws, which are meant to prevent unneeded testing.”

The day after the agents and officers collected the documents, Proove issued a statement, contending that “over the past six months, Proove has been subject to a handful of inaccurate stories initiated by Stat News that we believe have contributed to this latest action.” Proove said the articles filled with erroneous accusations from disgruntled former employees and consultants and that the company “is confident that the facts supported by verifiable and reliable sources will clearly restore our reputation.”

In an email, Piller (@cpiller) said he did not want to comment on Meshkin’s remarks, noting that “I’d prefer that others draw their own conclusions about what impact my reporting had.” For those interested in doing so, here are Piller’s articles about Proove:

Leave a Reply