Quintiles International has resorted to legal action after a string of executives jumped ship and joined rival contract research organisation aaiPharma.

The catalyst for the lawsuit seems to be the defection of Mark Ubert, Quintiles’ finance director, to aaiPharma at the end of May. The suit claims that his move to a rival company is in breach of a non-competition clause, and could expose Quintiles’ trade secrets, such as profitability, pricing strategies and business plans. Both Ubert and aaiPharma are named in the suit.

And earlier this week aaiPharma appointed yet another former Quintiles executive, the seventh to date, naming Mark Tyson to the position of senior vice president of information systems and technology.

The suggestion is that aaiPharma is poaching senior Quintiles executives as it tries to turn around the business, which fell into bankruptcy and accountancy scandals as a pharmaceutical manufacturer but re-invented itself earlier this year as a privately-held drug development services company.

Other recent appointments by aaiPharma of former Quintiles staff include:

  • aaiPharma’s president and chief executive Ludo Reynders, who left Quintiles in 2003 and joined the rival firm the following year;
  • Victoria Winters, who was director of global sales for clinical development services at her former employer and is now vice president of European business development at aaiPharma;
  • John Harrington, who had worked as head of human resources at Quintiles for 10 years and joined aaiPharma as executive vice president of resourcing in 2004;
  • John Hall, who used to work as senior vice president of corporate development at Quintiles subsidiary PharmaBio and is now president of European operations at aaiPharma; and
  • Rachel Selisker, who served as chief financial officer of Quintiles from 1987 to 2000 but recently joined aaiPharma as CFO after a stint in the venture capital sector.

The lawsuit is a real David and Goliath battle – with Quintiles operating in 50 countries worldwide and with 16,000 employees, while AAIPharma has around 860 staff and offices in 11 countries. But AAIPharma seems to have won the first exchange, with Quintiles being denied a temporary restraining order last month.

Neither company was prepared to comment on the legal action.