Pfizer is suing a recently departed employee on accusations of stealing trade secrets. They allege that Chun Xiao Li downloaded thousands of documents before she resigned. They included documents linked to their COVID-19 vaccine, as well as two other products, Bavencio, and elranatamab, both of which are monoclonal antibody treatments for cancer.
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Li uploaded more than 12,000 documents and mislead the company about her reasons
The brief for the lawsuit was filed in California on November 23 and published by Bloomberg Law. Pfizer says that Li uploaded more than 12,000 documents from the company to a Google Drive account. She misled the company about her reasons for uploading the files and where they were downloaded. She was the associate director of statistics at the time of her departure. Li had worked at the company since 2006. She first worked in China before moving to the US and working in La Jolla. Pfizer had already been investigating her conduct when she resigned on November 12. Potentially for a job offer elsewhere.
Pfizer says the company presented Li with the chance to explain her actions and where the files were on multiple occasions. However, Li failed to do so, which has led to Pfizer filing a lawsuit against her. They have also filed for a temporary restraining order and for financial relief of the company’s costs.
Pfizer says they do not yet understand the full scale of the alleged intellectual property theft. This is due to the number of files involved. The company says that although Li appeared to cooperate at first, she misled the company about what she did with the files. They also allege that she presented the company with a decoy laptop to derail the investigation. The lawsuit alleges theft of trade secrets and breach of contract, among other things.
Similar cases in the biopharma industry
In another case of trade secret theft in the biopharma industry, ex-employees of Genentech recently pleaded guilty to the act. The US Department of Justice said that Xanthe Lam, who was a principal scientist at Genentech, and her husband Allen Lam pleaded guilty to conspiring to steal trade secrets to aid competitors. The pair stole information relating to several cancer drugs made by the company, Rituxan, Herceptin, and Avastin, as well as a treatment for cystic fibrosis. They gave the stolen intellectual property to JHL Biotech, a Taiwanese firm that has now been renamed Eden Biologics.
The DOJ also set its sights on other parties involved, including two co-founders of JHL Biotech, ex-CEO Racho Jordanov, and former COO Rose Lin. They all were indicted by a federal grand jury in San Francisco. Jordanov and Lin were also Genentech employees. They allegedly began scheming to steal trade secrets from the company as early at 2008. They recruited the Lams in 2009, founding JHL in 2011. The indictment also says that the two former executives of JHL obtained thousands of documents used to “cut corners, reduce costs, solve problems, save time, and otherwise accelerate product development timelines”.
Biopharma is an industry where several prominent cases of trade secret theft have taken place in recent years.