Pfizer employee ‘stole vaccine secrets’

Pfizer has accused a departing employee of making off with a massive trove of confidential documents, including trade secrets related to its Covid-19 vaccine and other drugs, and then attempting an elaborate cover-up.

The Big Pharma firm launched a suit against the staffer, identified as Chun Xiao Li, earlier this week, alleging that she “uploaded over 12,000 files – including scores of confidential Pfizer documents – from her Pfizer-issued laptop to a personal Google Drive account” in late October, and then transferred those files to her own private device. 

“Due to the sheer number of documents Ms. Li misappropriated, Pfizer has yet to understand the full scope of trade-secret and confidential information in her possession,” the company said, adding that while Li now possesses “thousands of documents potentially related to numerous Pfizer vaccines,” the lawsuit is focused on its Covid-19 immunization and monoclonal antibody therapies.

Given her role and responsibilities as Associate Director of Statistics, Ms. Li had access to highly confidential, proprietary, and trade-secret information related to numerous vaccines and medications, including the Covid-19 vaccine...

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© Reuters / Carlo Allegri
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Pfizer also alleges that Li worked with up to five unidentified co-conspirators, and even went as far as to provide a “decoy laptop” to mislead the company’s security team, leaving them to believe it was the device used to exfiltrate the files. However, Pfizer said “forensic analyses” confirmed it was not the same laptop, and that Li – or one of her accomplices – “likely remains in possession of the actual computer that contains those 12,000 files.”

After discovering the document heist, the company said it conducted a review of Li’s emails, file access and web activity on her company-issued laptop, finding that she had been in discussions with a rival pharma firm, Xencor, about a job opportunity. Earlier this month, as Pfizer continued its probe, Li informed superiors that she would be leaving the company, but did not disclose any reason for doing so, including any job offer at Xencor – despite the fact she had already been hired there, and was set to begin work on November 29. 

Given that Li is still thought to possess a large trove of the company’s trade secrets, Pfizer argued that it would be “unjust to permit Ms. Li and anybody with whom she may be working in concert to trade on Pfizer’s successes and experience, whether at Xencor or elsewhere, by leveraging the numerous confidential Pfizer documents she took without permission and refuses to return,” and is therefore seeking a restraining order to bar her from using the material for “her own purposes.”

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Despite those allegations, Li has insisted that she’s provided all information requested by Pfizer and cooperated with its investigation, according to the court filing, which also noted that Li has declined further meetings with the company due to unspecified “health issues.”

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