The founder of Ambrosia, the failed Silicon Valley startup that charged people thousands of dollars to fill their veins with teenage blood plasma, is back in business. Months after that company abruptly shut down in February following a forceful warning from the Food and Drug Administration about transfusions of young donor plasma, Jesse Karmazin has launched Ivy Plasma, a new plasma therapy venture, this time reportedly offering off-label transfusions from donors who aren’t exclusively young.
Throughout Ambrosia’s short existence, Karmazin drew scathing criticism from scientists and medical experts who accused him of peddling snake oil to the desperate and vulnerable and who rebuked him for hawking plasma transfusions, a potentially life-threatening procedure, for unproven, medically unnecessary purposes.
With his latest enterprise now underway, 35-year-old Karmazin seems to be in damage control mode. Last week, nine months after HuffPost published a lengthy investigation into his doomed startup, he sent us two unprompted late-night emails threatening a defamation lawsuit and falsely claiming that a deceased Ambrosia patient had “faked his own death.”
Our deep dive into Ambrosia outlined a laundry list of issues: its secretive purchase of plasma from a blood bank that recruited teenage donors for “saving lives”; Karmazin’s mysterious agreement with authorities to stop practicing medicine in Massachusetts; turmoil among the small circle of people who worked for Ambrosia; Karmazin’s repeated refusal to release the results of Ambrosia’s controversial pay-to-participate clinical trial; and his many wild, scientifically unsupported claims about his treatment’s alleged benefits (including age reversal and near-immortality) for people suffering from a variety of ailments.
But it was HuffPost’s reporting on the death of a former patient that Karmazin took particular issue with. He didn’t dispute the fact that the patient, a Georgia man who died unexpectedly at age 65, had received Ambrosia’s treatment — he insisted the man was actually still alive.
“I have a rather surprising piece of information to discuss with you,” Karmazin wrote. “I was recently called by [the patient]. Suffice it to say, it appears he faked his own death ― he had mentioned some financial difficulties he had encountered, which perhaps might explain his motivation. I have to assume you have no objective evidence of his passing away.”
Karmazin was wrong: We do have objective evidence of the patient’s death, although we didn’t include all of it in our article. Prior to publishing, we obtained a copy of the man’s publicly available death certificate. It lists the cause of death, the attending physician, the official who pronounced the man dead, and details about the funeral proceedings and burial.
Not knowing this, Karmazin apparently felt that claiming the man had faked his death was a worthy gamble. “No patients died after receiving Ambrosia’s treatment. … I hope for professionalism and to avoid a lawsuit you will update your article,” he cautioned us. “As you might imagine the potential damages are quite large.”
This is far from the first falsehood Karmazin has been caught in, although it is perhaps the most unscrupulous. By claiming that the individual in question “faked his own death,” Karmazin alleged that his former patient had committed fraud. That is to say, in his emails accusing us of defamation, Karmazin was defaming a dead man for personal gain. (As he may already be aware, U.S. defamation laws don’t protect the deceased.)
Although he has been unsuccessful as a doctor and an entrepreneur, Karmazin is a master at twisting narratives and bending the truth. Much of the publicity that launched Ambrosia into notoriety in the first place, for example, came from its rumored connection to tech billionaire Peter Thiel — a rumor that Karmazin appears to have started himself. After Karmazin’s claim to a reporter at Inc. magazine that a Thiel associate had approached him to express interest in Ambrosia raised eyebrows, Karmazin walked it back, reportedly going so far as to accuse the reporter of making the whole thing up. (An email exchange between Karmazin and the reporter, which was obtained by Gizmodo, proves that allegation false.)
Karmazin’s explanation for being barred from practicing medicine in Massachusetts doesn’t add up, either. In 2016, he signed an agreement with state authorities to immediately cease his practice there. Karmazin has claimed that he was required to sign the agreement simply because he left his medical residency early, but that makes little sense. Karmazin was practicing under a limited license, which would have terminated automatically when he left his residency, according to the executive director of the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Medicine. The type of agreement that Karmazin signed is used to protect patient safety.
On his website for Ivy Plasma, Karmazin claims Ambrosia was “dissolved” because “the FDA decided that young plasma is a new drug and the entire clinical trial process must proceed before marketing can begin.” In fact, the FDA expressed explicit concern that “patients are being preyed upon by unscrupulous actors touting treatments of plasma from young donors as cures and remedies” and warned that “such treatments have no proven clinical benefits for the uses for which these clinics are advertising them and are potentially harmful.”
When we responded to Karmazin’s emails to tell him that we’re confident in our reporting …
So we sent him the death certificate, which is available as a public record in Georgia, and informed him that we would be reporting on his allegation of fraud.
A couple of hours later, Karmazin sent us another multipart response, criticizing our decision to write this story, threatening legal action again and retracting his claim.
“In light of a death certificate, I have to agree that this patient is dead.”
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