Pfizer reported that an employee stole secret documents of the vaccine against COVID-19.
The pharmacist accused Chun Xiao Li of uploading 12,000 files to a cloud account, several of them confidential. When confronted, she handed over a "decoy" computer.
Pfizer reported that a "future former employee" misappropriated thousands of files, including trade secret documents related to its COVID-19 vaccine, as detailed in a federal lawsuit in California.
Pfizer said that Chun Xiao (Sherry) Li allegedly uploaded more than 12,000 files, including "dozens" of documents containing confidential information, to a Google Drive account in a complaint filed Tuesday in the United States District Court for the Southern District of California.
The papers purportedly pertain to various topics, including the analysis of vaccine studies, operational goals, and new drug development plans.
Pfizer says in the complaint that it believed Li would go to Xencor Inc, a firm that develops antibody therapies, and that she turned over a "decoy" laptop when confronted about subsequent downloads of the information.
Pfizer is seeking a temporary restraining order to prevent Li from using, disclosing, transmitting, or altering any confidential information that he possesses. He also wants the court to order Li to provide Pfizer's outside attorney's access to his personal Google Drive accounts and all of his computing devices.
According to the complaint, Lee began working for Pfizer's Global Product Development Group in China in 2006 before moving to the San Diego area in 2016. Pfizer said he had signed a confidentiality agreement as part of his employment contract.
Lee did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A Xencor spokesman noted that the company was not involved in the lawsuit and declined to comment further.
"Pfizer takes the protection of sensitive and confidential information very seriously.
Protecting that information is critical to scientific innovation and ultimately enables us to deliver advancements for patients," said a company spokesperson.
Trade secrets are a thorny topic for the debate on the waiver of intellectual property rights related to COVID. The disclosure of trade secrets could help foreign manufacturers produce imitations of the vaccines created by Pfizer, which has spoken out against an international exemption on intellectual property protection in treatments and vaccines related to COVID-19.