Third former GSK scientist pleads guilty to conspiring to steal trade secrets
A third former GlaxoSmithKline scientist caught in an alleged plot to steal trade secrets and sell the work in China pleaded guilty to conspiracy on Monday.
Lucy Xi, a 44-year-old scientist, was accused of feeding her former husband, Yan Mei, confidential information on GSK’s research into monoclonal antibodies for his work on a new Chinese biotech company called Renopharma, according to the charges.
Mei established Renopharma back in 2012 along with Tao Li and Yu Xue, a former top chemist at GSK’s Upper Merion, PA, facility. While the company claimed to be doing R&D work in oncology, US attorney Jennifer Arbittier Williams argued Renopharma was actually used “as a repository of information stolen from GSK.” Furthermore, the government of China subsidized and supported the company financially.
Xue and Li pleaded guilty to their conspiracy charges more than three years ago, while Mei remains a fugitive living in China, according to the Department of Justice. Xue’s sister, Tian Xue, has also pleaded guilty to conspiracy.
“This defendant illegally stole trade secrets to benefit her husband’s company, which was financed by the Chinese government. 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 American jobs and jeopardizes the strategic benefits brought about through research and development,” Williams said in a statement.
Xi worked as a GSK scientist from July 2008 to November 2015, according to the indictment. In January 2015, she sent Mei a GSK document containing secret data and information, including a summary of GSK’s research into monoclonal antibodies. In the body of the email, she wrote: “You need to understand it very well. It will help you in your future business [RENOPHARMA].”
While Xue pleaded guilty back in 2018, she told the judge that she didn’t think she was sharing actual trade secrets. However, 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.
Xi is scheduled for sentencing on April 12, according to a Reuters report.
Chinese research has recently come under increased scrutiny by the US, with the Biden administration blacklisting and sanctioning dozens of government research institutes and private-sector firms last month over concerns they were potentially looking to weaponize biotechnology, including supposed “brain-control weaponry,” according to an ABC News report.
Just a couple weeks ago, Charles Lieber, the former Chair of Harvard University’s Chemistry and Chemical Biology Department was convicted of lying to federal authorities about his affiliation with People’s Republic of China’s Thousand Talents Program and the Wuhan University of Technology (WUT), and failing to report income he received from WUT. FBI special agent Joseph R. Bonavolonta said Lieber “repeatedly lied to his employer, the federal government, and taxpayers to fraudulently maintain access to federal research funds.”
“Today’s verdict reinforces our commitment to protect our country’s position as a global leader in research and innovation and to hold those accountable who exploit and undermine that position through dishonesty,” Bonavolonta said.