For much of the past decade, Beike Biotechnology, a private company based Shenzhen, China was one of the most prominent stem cell profit centers on earth. In its early years Beike founder, Hu Xiang (a.k.a Sean Hu) teamed up with an American professional named Jon Hakim (a.k.a John Harris), who had just extricated himself from a company called Transplants International whose business model involved the trafficking of human organs from freshly executed Chinese prisoners (a kidney was $40,000, while a liver could be had for $60K). “I see this is clearly something that I do not want to be part of,” he told a reporter from the Daily Telegraph in 2005 who had uncovered the appalling operation. Hakim next set up the website China Stem Cell News, which became a one-stop shop for glowing patient testimonials that were used extensively by China-based stem cell marketers to flog their untested and unregulated wares.
After BBC made an investigation of Beike Biotech, in which they confronted Hakim about his past, he effectively disappeared from view (I couldn’t find him anyway) and may have left the company (he had been Chief Operating Officer). But with thousands of foreign patients paying $26,500 each in ante to join the stem cell crapshoot, it was only a matter of time before greed rushed in to fill the void.
Scott Alexander Moffett (who usually goes by Alex; I know, I’ve met him) teamed up with Beike fresh out of a string of apparently successful herbal and ayurvedic medicine businesses in south and southeast Asia (visit his public LinkedIn page for a list of companies he has headed). He became the new head of Beike Biotech’s holding company, Beike Holdings and embarked on an impressive campaign to diversify their business outside of China. In the two and half years he was there, he helped build a network of affiliates and subsidiaries that spanned from Romania to Saudi Arabia to India to Malaysia and Indonesia.
Alex and me (first and second from left), with Jeannie Fontana and Grant Albrecht at the World Stem Cell Summit 2009. Watch the video here
But when Hu abruptly sold his company in late 2010 (after presumably clearing over $100 million in revenues through treatment of 9,000+ foreign and Chinese patients), Moffett followed soon after, buying out the holding company and launching his own new venture, a Bangkok-based “Vanuatu corporation” called Siricell (apparently meaning “The wealth of the cell” in Sanskrit/English), which has the improbable mission of targeting “age related disease management and to assist in the extension of life until the Singularity Nexus expands the scope and capacities of our work in these areas.” For those of you who don’t read science fiction, the “Singularity” is a proposed future point at which technological development makes it possible to extend human lifespan radically or perhaps even indefinitely. Whether that is achieved through unforeseeable and unlikely advances in medicine, or by uploading a digitized simulacrum of one’s neural network into a computer, I for one will not be holding my breath for it to arrive. (But good luck to all the True Believers!)
And there are many true believers indeed, represented enthusiastically by the SENS (Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence) Foundation, an anti-aging research group headed by Aubrey de Grey, with backing from such impressive backers as PayPal co-founder and Ron Paul’s favorite sugardaddy Peter Thiel and “Internet entrepreneur” Jason Hope. (If you had hundreds of millions of dollars, as these two do, you might try to live forever too.) Interestingly, the SENS Foundation is listed on the Siricell website as a member of the advisory board.
Moffett himself is no stranger to out-of-the-box thinking. He did spend nearly 20 years, after all, at the helm of various companies in the “ayurceutics” and herbal medicine space (during which tenure he was applauded for introducing sapayul oil, cat’s claw, and kava kava, among others, to the armamentarium). And, as with his most Singular stem cells, and apparently drum machine technology (see Linn Moffet Electronics) as well, his expertise was self-taught (see Education). Although to be fair, he did spend quite some time in his youth on the luxurious compound of the Fellowship of Friends, an esoteric group in Northern California established by an elementary school teacher in the early 70s to keep the teachings of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky alive. By some definitions of alive, at least. Moffett previously listed this on his Education history, but now only this screenshot remains.
And what good friends they are!
What Moffett makes no mention of at all in his profile, however, is the time he spent testifying before a grand jury in a remarkable drug-smuggling case involving a whole cast of interesting characters, including one Steven Marshank, who was arrested and charged for his involvement in an attempt to smuggle 35 tons of marijuana into the US (referred to in court documents as the “Hartog Load”)in the late 80s. Luckily for Marshank, his defense attorney, Ronald Minkin, had been cooperating with authorities in a most conflicted and unethical way, which allowed Marshank to assert, successfully, that his Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights had been violated, and the case was thrown out. It isn’t reported what happened to that 70,000 lbs of weed.
Also luckily for Marshank, one Scott Alexander Moffett, who had testified to a grand jury in the case, had “retracted any statements he made previously concerning Marshank, stating that he had given false information to the government under pressure and in the hopes of receiving a lighter sentence for a drug conviction” (see Ref 13). The pair walked free. Their LinkedIn pages tell us that between 1983 and 1987, Marshank and Moffett were the co-founders and CEOs of Premier Herbs, “A Los Angeles based herbal ingredients import and distribution company focusing on introduction of South American traditional medicines.” Noted without comment.
And now, here in 2012, we find Moffett and Marshank together again, with Moffett the Founder, Chairman and CEO and “Visionary Entrepreneur” Marshank the Director of International Development. Rounding out the crew is Narin “Jimmy” Apiraichuk, the youthful former VP of Theravitae, the Bangkok-based stem cell profit center set up by Don Margolis. Marshank claimed via LinkedIn that, “SiriCell now has subsidiaries in India, Hong Kong, Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines and the Britisch [sic] Virgin Islands. In 2011 we will be opening subsidiaries in Panama and Egypt.”
I remain unconvinced that Moffett and Marshank have stumbled upon the fountain of youth, but they may have found the golden fleece. When medicine goes unmonitored, it allows some highly irregular characters to set up shop and indeed to thrive. Libertarians, free-marketeers, and ICMS fans – beware. You might just get what you’re wishing for.