China, People, Pharma

Another scientist pleads guilty for his role in a scheme to sell GSK’s trade secrets in China

Another Chinese scientist embroiled in an alleged plot to steal trade secrets from GlaxoSmithKline and sell the work in China has pleaded guilty to a single conspiracy count.

Tao Li, the charges claim, set up Renopharma in Nanjing together with Yu Xue — the GSK scientist accused of smuggling confidential research out of the pharma giant — and Yan Mei. Xue pleaded guilty days ago to a count against her, which could mean up to 10 years in prison, though she contended she didn’t believe she was doing anything wrong.

US Attorney William McSwain, however, thought otherwise.

“Dr. Li illegally stole trade secrets to benefit himself and his company, which was financed by the Chinese government,” he said in a release out Friday. “The lifeblood of companies like GSK is its intellectual property, and when that property is stolen and transferred to a foreign country, it threatens thousands of jobs here in America. Not only is this a serious crime, but it is literally a form of economic warfare against American interests. Such criminal behavior must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

Ostensibly doing R&D on cancer drugs, Renopharma was in fact “used as a repository of stolen information from GSK,” according to the charges. Furthermore, the government of China subsidized and supported the company financially.

The FBI arrested Li in 2016 and found on his computer “a number of GSK documents containing trade secret and confidential information” regarding products under development, research data as well as research, manufacturing and development processes.

While Xue pleaded guilty, she told the judge she didn’t think she was sharing actual trade secrets. The judge noted that prosecutors didn’t need to prove that she understood the material included trade secrets, just that Xue knew she was offering a look at confidential research.

“A trade secret to me is not publicly available. The patents I sent to them is publicly available,” she said then, according to the AP report on the plea.

Li, 45, is scheduled to be sentenced next January.

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Research Scientist - Immunology
Recursion Pharmaceuticals Salt Lake City, UT
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Atlas Venture Cambridge, MA

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