Earlier this year, I took a deep dive into the science of young blood transfusions–a controversial and unsubstantiated realm of medicine that posits that “young blood” offers far-reaching benefits to human health, and may be the secret to immortality. Why did I do so?
Because of Ambrosia.
What was/is Ambrosia?
Ambrosia, a Silicon Valley start-up run by the enigmatic Jesse Karmazin and funded in-part by the notorious Peter Thiel, claimed that transfusions of plasma from young donors could offer some serious health benefits. For the cool price of 8,000 USD for 1 litre or 12,000 USD for 2 litres, customers at its clinics in 6 cities across the US were promised rejuvenation. In various interviews, Karmazin stated that this treatment offered recipients “improvements in illnesses such as Alzheimer’s and other age-related disorders, as well as other things associated with aging, like energy, muscle strength, memory, skin quality, joint pain, etc.”
And so, with such bold claims, we took it upon ourselves to see what was really going on. We analyzed the science. We evaluated the ethics. We even talked to Karmazin himself. Our conclusion? With dubious scientific claims, an unpublished and not peer-reviewed clinical trial, an uncomfortable ethical basis, and a leader unwilling to see right from wrong, Ambrosia posed a clear and very real threat its patients, itself, and society as a whole.
As it turns out, our assessment was correct. In February 2019, concerns from the FDA prompted Ambrosia to shutter its clinics across the US. A firestorm of negative publicity proceeded, leading Ambrosia’s founder, Karmazin, to announce his plan to dissolve the company.
There was one problem with this, however: He didn’t.
Enter Ivy Plasma
After waiting for the firestorm of controversy surrounding Ambrosia to subside, in Summer 2019 Jesse Karmazin quietly transitioned to his new business, Ivy Plasma. Ivy Plasma, unlike its predecessor Ambrosia, wasn’t using so-called “young blood”. Instead, Ivy Plasma offered customers regular plasma transfusions from registered donor centres across the US. Ivy Plasma opted to offer these “treatments” off-label, meaning it could conduct these transfusions for purposes the FDA didn’t explicitly approve of and endorse. When confronted by journalists, Jesse Karmazin continued to withhold any substantive information on the business–refusing to comment on the nature of the procedure, the staff involved, and the health claims of the transfusions themselves. Ivy Plasma continued operations until November 2019, when it rebranded itself into a familiar name.
You guessed it, Ambrosia is back.
The Return of Ambrosia
Now in November 2019, Ivy Plasma itself is no more, having been replaced with Ambrosia 2.0 and links to its website (Ivy Plasma) redirecting to the new Ambrosia webpage. When asked about the rationale for Ivy Plasma, Karmazin stated: “Ivy Plasma was a short-lived rebranding effort to test customer interest in other products.” And when pressed about the transition back to Ambrosia, Karmazin said: “People really like the Ambrosia name and brand, so Ambrosia is going to continue. The resounding response from people wanting to sign up was, ‘keep things the same.’ So that’s what we’re going to do.”
So, given all these developments, where does this leave us?
First, Ambrosia is indeed back to offering customers “young blood” transfusions at its one “clinic” in San Francisco. Second, according to its shiny, new website, Ambrosia is also offering to sell its blood supplies to interested doctors and their patients for transfusions. And Jesse Karmazin? He’s up to even wackier antics, recently claiming that a now-deceased former Ambrosia customer faked his own death. When challenged on this claim, Jesse was adamant in this conspiracy right up until he was shown the man’s death certificate. And of course, Ambrosia still falsely claims to have scientific backing for these procedures in humans, despite still not yet publishing the results of its much-maligned clinical trial. The worse part? Ambrosia can do all of these things legally, in part because of the lax regulatory environment for off-label products in the USA. And until this changes, Ambrosia and its founder Jesse Karmazin don’t appear to be going anywhere.
So while “young blood” transfusions may not be the secret to eternal life, Ambrosia and its founder Jesse Karmazin seem to have found immortality on their own.
Author: Zachary Weiss