Two former employees at Eli Lilly have been accused of stealing trade secrets valued at $55 million and handing them over to a competitor in China.
The Indianapolis Business Journal reports that two Chinese-born US citizens Guoqing Cao and Shuyu Li have been arrested amid claims that they e-mailed sensitive information about nine investigational drug programmes at Lilly to an unnamed man who is employed by Jiangsu Hengrui Medicine Co. Messrs Cao and Li were arrested last week and have appeared in a US District Court in Indianapolis.
US Attorney Joseph Hogsett was quoted as saying that "all told, the facts are clear. Stolen trade secrets account for billions of (dollars) of losses for American companies throughout our nation, not only just here in Indianapolis". Bill Heath, head of product R&D at Lilly, said at the court hearing that the information passed on by the men could help Hengrui duplicate Lilly’s research for drugs being developed to treat cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer.
Lilly general counsel Michael Harrington called the alleged thefts “appalling and disappointing,” adding in a statement that the firm "will aggressively pursue every legal remedy to protect and safeguard its scientific discoveries". He added that "the confidential information these former employees are accused of stealing relates to early-stage clinical development [and] while very serious, the theft does not significantly jeopardise our overall R&D pipeline".
China oncology pact with Hutchison
Meantime, Lilly has signed a licensing deal with Hutchison MediPharma, owned by China's Chi-Med, for fruquintinib, a targeted therapy for various types of solid tumours.
Fruquintinib is a selective inhibitor of the vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) receptor tyrosine kinases and is currently in Phase II in China. Under the terms of the agreement, HMP will potentially receive up to $86.5 million, including upfront payments and development and regulatory approval milestones, plus tiered royalties. The deal only covers China at present.