Law and Pharma

Pharmaceutical Technology, Pharmaceutical Technology, May 2022, Volume 46, Issue 5

A long-running criminal case involving the theft of confidential data from a pharma giant is still unravelling, as more convictions are made.

As the world’s media is focusing on the high-profile, celebrity defamation case currently underway between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard, the pharmaceutical industry is also witnessing some further developments in a long-running criminal case, concerning trade secrets. The case, which has been ongoing for six years, was brought to court by pharma giant, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), against several people, including employees.

GSK trade secrets case

To get to the beginning of this specific trade secrets case, it is necessary to go back to early 2016, when Philadelphia federal prosecutors indicted five people on charges of stealing trade secrets (1). The people accused included two research scientists who had worked at one of the company’s research facilities. Four of the five indicted have already pleaded guilty—some in 2018 and others in 2022—the fifth person is currently a fugitive, residing in China (2–4).

However, another offender in the case was recently convicted in May 2022 (5). The new offender, formerly a Swiss resident, had worked at the Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research (FMI), which is affiliated with Novartis.

Data theft, operational threat

Confidential and proprietary data were shared between the offenders involved in this case, and two new business entities were set up—one in China and the other in Switzerland—through which, those involved would sell and market the pilfered information. The data that was stolen mainly pertained to anti-cancer drugs that were purported to be extremely valuable (5).

“When a company like GSK spends billions on research and development to bring new drugs to market, the theft of valuable trade secrets poses a significant operational threat,” said Jacqueline Maguire, special agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Philadelphia Division—who had investigated the criminal activity—in a press release (5).

References

1. K. Thomas, “5 Accused of Stealing Drug Secrets from GlaxoSmithKline,” The New York Times, 20 Jan. 2016.
2. The United States Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of Pennsylvania, “Former GlaxoSmithKline Scientist Pleads Guilty to Stealing Trade Secrets to Benefit Chinese Pharmaceutical Company,” justice.gov, Press Release, 31 Aug. 2018.
3. The United States Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of Pennsylvania, “Second Former GlaxoSmithKline Scientist Pleads Guilty to Stealing Trade Secrets to Benefit Chinese Pharmaceutical Company,” justice.gov, Press Release, 14 Sept. 2018.
4. The United States Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of Pennsylvania, “Fourth Defendant Pleads Guilty to Stealing Trade Secrets from GlaxoSmithKline to Benefit Chinese Pharma Company,” justice.gov, Press Release, 3 Jan. 2022.
5. The United States Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of Pennsylvania, “Swiss Scientist Convicted by Federal Jury of Conspiracy to Steal Trade Secrets Belonging to GlaxoSmithKline,” justice.gov, Press Release, 2 May 2022.

About the author

Felicity Thomas is the senior editor/European editor for Pharmaceutical Technology Group.

Article details

Pharmaceutical Technology Europe
Vol. 34, No. 5
May 2022
Page: 6

Citation

When referring to this article, please cite it as F. Thomas, “Law and Pharma,” Pharmaceutical Technology Europe 34 (5) 2022.