A former GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) researcher, Yu Xue, has pleaded guilty to a plot to steal the pharmaceutical company’s trade secrets for biopharmaceutical products in development to treat cancer and other diseases.
The theft was reportedly intended to benefit Chinese pharmaceutical company Renopharma, which was founded by Xue and her associates Tao Li and Yan Mei.
At the time of establishing Renopharma, Xue was working on the development of about $1bn worth of therapeutics at GSK’s research facility in Upper Merion, Pennsylvania, US.
Allegations claim that Xue provided her associates in China with a ‘substantial number of GSK’s scientific documents’, including those with the pharmaceutical giant’s trade secrets.
These documents contained information on various biopharmaceutical products under development, research data and processes, development and manufacturing of the drugs.
The documents were mainly sent through e-mail and portable electronic storage devices.
The theft was discovered in January 2016, when the US’ Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) arrested Li and seized his computer containing multiple confidential GSK documents.
US Attorney William McSwain said: “Dr Xue used her position at GSK to steal valuable trade secrets to benefit a company bankrolled by the Chinese government.
“We cannot allow US citizens or foreign nationals to steal sensitive business information and hand it over to competitors in other countries. This sort of economic warfare presents a danger to our economic security, jeopardizes America’s position as a global leader in innovation, and will not be tolerated.”
According to media reports, Xue pleaded guilty, but said she did not understand that the transferred data was considered trade secrets.
Xue noted: “A trade secret to me is not publicly available. The patents I sent to them are publicly available.”