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.

Alexander Lefterov/Endpoints News

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