While websites and conference programs have said that Freenome CEO Gabriel Otte has earned a PhD, Buzzfeed News reports that he has not.
Otte counters at Buzzfeed, however, that he's always said that he worked on, but never finished, a PhD. He says he doesn't know why he was listed on the Freenome site and elsewhere as having received the degree — he suggests it might have been due to a misunderstanding or a typo. Indeed, Buzzfeed notes that some of the ways Otte's academic career has been described could be misinterpreted. For instance, it notes that his biography says: "While working on his PhD in computational biology at the University of Pennsylvania, he published several papers on applications of machine learning on large genomics datasets and other big data."
Investors in Freenome, which is developing a circulating cell-free DNA-based approach to detect cancer early, tell Buzzfeed that Otte has been clear that he didn't finish his degree. A general partner at GV adds that that didn't faze them as many people involved in startups leave school early.
Buzzfeed adds that Otte might not have left school on the best terms. Shelley Berger, Otte's former advisor at Penn, tells Buzzfeed that she had concerns about some of Otte's unpublished work while in her lab and that some of his primary physical data could not be found. Otte declined to tell Buzzfeed about why he left Penn.