No, Peter Thiel is not harvesting the blood of the young

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No, Peter Thiel is not harvesting the blood of the young

Peter Thiel has some wild ideas, but transfusing teen blood into his own body might not be his bag.

Correction below

Stories of countesses bathing in virgin blood, or vampiric nobles sucking the juice out of the young, have captured our attention for centuries. But when stories started coming out that tech billionaire Peter Thiel was interested in transfusing teen blood into his own body, it sent Silicon Valley into a fever dream. Peter Thiel, the vampire!

Thiel has been alleged to have a lot of crazy ideas — like that women shouldn’t have been given the vote or that we should create lawless floating nations to solve society’s problems. The coup de grâce appeared to be Thiel’s role in toppling Gawker 10 years after the media company wrote openly about his sexuality.

Then, of course, he joined Trump, a pariah in the tech world. No wonder everyone was quick to believe that Thiel would be willing to suck the blood of the young if it added a few more years to his own life.

Inc. wrote that Thiel was so afraid of dying that he was looking at “having younger people’s blood transfused into his own veins.” The story reported that Thiel Capital medical director Jason Camm (who is also an angel investor) had even contacted a startup called Ambrosia that was harvesting the blood of teens.

In short order, Vanity Fair, Gawker and numerous other media sites repeated the story. Ambrosia received so much press attention that founder Jesse Karmazin was even invited to talk about his work at Recode’s recent Code Conference. Meanwhile, an episode of HBO’s “Silicon Valley” poked fun at the unsettling idea.

But the story that took shape, that Thiel was looking to harvest the blood of the young, simply isn’t true according to Karmazin, who told us when asked that he was never contacted by Thiel or anyone associated with Thiel Capital. “I wish I did know Peter Thiel,” he said. “He’s not even a patient. If he were, I would have to say ‘We can’t disclose that information.’ But he’s not even a patient so I can tell you, he’s not a patient’.”

Unquestionably, Thiel has been interested in cheating death for several years. He told Business Insider back in 2012, “Death is a problem that can be solved.” He’s also investing in life extension research, funding Cynthia Kenyon, Aubrey de Grey and a number of other researchers who are focused on anti-aging. Last fall, the life extension startup Unity Biotechnology also raised an enormous round of funding from Thiel and other Silicon Valley billionaires interested in the prospect of humans living much longer lives.

Ambrosia — which takes donated teen blood and pumps it into anyone age 35 or older for $8,000 a pop — seems like just the type of wild startup that would interest Thiel.

As questionable as the idea sounds, blood from the young is not new. The process, known as parabiosis, has at least been successful in mice. Karmazin also says he’s seen his own patients’ hair return from gray back to its original color, and he says he has noted a remarkable difference in pep in the 600 or so people now going through treatment in his facility.

Contrary to the depiction in “Silicon Valley,” however, Ambrosia cannot directly hire the teens. Due to fairly strict regulations, people can’t be compensated for their blood, so the startup relies heavily instead on donor facilities.

It’s also a very experimental procedure for humans at this point, with repeated sessions needed to keep up the effects, Karmazin says. (“You don’t look like you are 20 after one treatment,” he tells me.)

That’s saying nothing of the fact that the process can be duplicated. Anyone with a certain medical understanding could set up their own shop and charge people for the same service. Asked about the challenge, Karmazin says Ambrosia is by design “not structured as a money-making operation.”

The risks associated with blood transfusions also sound pretty risky and the pay-to-play aspect of Ambrosia has drawn criticism in the science world. Others have called into question the idea of filling old people’s veins with teen blood as an anti-aging solution.

Still, Karmazin is hopeful he’ll have some good results from a preliminary human trial in the next year. As for the media frenzy, Karmazin says the old adage that there’s no such thing as bad press is true, and that all the wild stories have led to a lot of inquiry.

“It’s amazing how many journalists just repeat what they’ve read,” he says.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misrepresented reporting of Inc. by stating that it said Thiel Capital was looking to invest in Ambrosia. In a story titled, “Peter Thiel Is Very, Very Interested in Young People’s Blood,” Inc. reported instead that a Thiel associate expressed interest in what the company was doing. We regret the error.

Editor’s Note: Regrettably, we originally published this article without soliciting comment from the writer of the Inc. piece a year ago, Jeff Bercovici. In order for our readers to have all of the context available, we asked Jeff if he would like to add comment to this story. Bercovici’s comment follows:

Jesse Karmazin’s claim to Sarah Buhr that he was never contacted by anyone from Thiel Capital directly contradicts what he told me in July 2016. It was Karmazin, not I, who brought up Jason Camm’s name during our phone interview after I asked him whether anyone from Silicon Valley had expressed interest in Ambrosia. After our call, I followed up by email to ask Karmazin for more detail about his conversation with Camm. Karmazin responded by saying it was a mistake on his part to mention any individuals. TechCrunch has reviewed those emails. It has also reviewed the email Karmazin sent after publication of my story, in which he complimented how I conveyed the information about Ambrosia. I also advised TechCrunch that I spoke with Jason Camm in August 2016, at the SENS Research Foundation’s Rejuvenation Biotech Conference. While our conversation was off the record, I can say at no point has Camm or anyone else from Thiel Capital denied to me that he called Karmazin.

Ten months later, Karmazin told Sarah Buhr, in an email, that he had never spoken with Jason Camm. Buhr also says in her phone conversation with Karmazin he denied ever talking to anyone from Thiel Capital. Buhr printed Karmazin’s denials without asking me for comment. When I followed up with Karmazin, asking him to correct the record about Camm’s inquiry, he told me, “I won’t be able to confirm his interest or lack thereof.” When I asked if he could confirm that he had denied any contact with Thiel Capital to TechCrunch, he said he could not comment.
I am happy to let readers draw their own conclusions about why Karmazin brought up Camm’s name to me in July 2016, acknowledged bringing it up afterward and complimented the story I wrote based on our conversation, denied having mentioned Camm 10 months later, and now has no comment whatsoever about the matter.
Featured Image: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch