Pfizer says former employee stole trade secrets about megablockbuster COVID-19 vaccine

Pfizer and other drug manufacturers are committed to protecting their proprietary information. When it comes to the world’s best-selling pharmaceutical product, the company’s BioNTech-partnered COVID-19 vaccine, Pfizer’s defense of trade secrets weighs even more heavily.

That’s why the company is working to get control of information allegedly stolen by a “soon to be a former employee.” In a new lawsuit filed in California, published by Bloomberg, Pfizer says an employee, Chun Xaio Li, has uploaded more than 12,000 files, including “Pfizer confidential documents,” to a personal Google Drive account and to personal devices.

The company says it has “not yet understood the full scope” of the alleged theft thanks to the “huge number” of documents involved. The company’s lawsuit focuses on its COVID-19 vaccine, Comirnaty, and two cancer monoclonal antibodies.

Pfizer confronted Li about the “disturbing behavior,” and she initially gave “the appearance of cooperation,” the lawsuit said. Now, however, Pfizer believes Li has “misled” the company “about what she took, how she took it, when and why she did it, and where those files (and possibly others) can be found today.” The company claims it even provided a “false laptop” to distract the investigation.

RELATED: Pfizer Will Be a $100 Billion Behemoth Next Year Thanks To COVID-19 Drug And Vaccine: Analyst

Pfizer’s COVID-19 injection was a huge success, generating tens of billions of dollars in revenue this year. The company says in its lawsuit that “success breeds imitation” and that Pfizer’s rivals have tried “relentlessly” to recruit its employees.

“The vast majority of Pfizer employees choose to stay with Pfizer, and are pleased to be part of a winning team that recognizes the efforts of individuals with generous compensation packages and advancement opportunities within Pfizer,” the company said in its lawsuit. “Not so for Ms. Li, who decided to leave Pfizer for a competitor believed to be Xencor, Inc.”

A representative of Xencor, a California-based clinical-stage company working on cancer and autoimmune disease drugs, said the company cannot comment because it is not a party to the lawsuit.

RELATED: Ex-Genentech employees plead guilty to trade secret theft as DOJ targets biotech partners for $101 million Sanofi deal

In its lawsuit, Pfizer alleges misappropriation of trade secrets, breach of contract, and more. The company is demanding a temporary restraining order and injunction to “prevent further irreparable harm” while it works through arbitration proceedings with Li.

Biopharma watchers are probably no strangers to cases of stolen trade secrets. In a recent high-profile case, two ex-Genentech staffers allowed steal information from the company to help a competitor.

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