Five people have been charged with conspiracy to steal trade secrets from GSK, including two former employees of the drug giant.
Image credit: GSK
On Wednesday, US Attorney Zane David Memeger revealed that an indictment had been filed against 45-year-old Yu Xue, from Wayne, PA, and 38-year-old Lucy Xi, from West Lake Village, CA - former employees at GlaxoSmithKline's (GSK) research facility in Upper Merion, PA.
The indictment involved "conspiracy to steal trade secrets, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering, theft of trade secrets and wire fraud."
Three other researchers - 42-year-old Tao Li, 36-year-old Yan Mei, both from China, and 45-year-old Tian Xue, from Charlotte, NC - have also been charged.
The indictment document states that both Yu Xue and Lucy Xi stole "trade secrets and otherwise confidential information" from GSK during their employment with the company.
Yu Xue e-mailed the information to her own personal account - against company policy - before sending it from her personal account to Tao Li, Yan Mei and Tian Xue. Lucy Xi e-mailed the stolen information to Yan Mei, her husband, according to the document.
The stolen information contained trade secrets associated with new drugs under development by GSK - including drugs for cancer - as well as confidential information relating to research data and drug manufacturing.
Such information would be very useful for a start-up pharmaceutical company, according to the indictment document, and it is believed this is what it was used for.
GSK theft highlights need for 'constant vigilance' in drug industry
In his statement, Memeger says Yu Xue, Tao Li and Yan Mei formed a corporation in China called Renopharma, and they are alleged to have used this company to market and sell the stolen information.
Such information "could be sold for millions of dollars to rival pharmaceutical companies," the indictment document states.
Furthermore, the document reveals that Yu Xue, Tao Li and Yan Mei allegedly agreed to title all criminal proceeds from Renopharma in the name of Tian Xue - Yu Xue's twin sister - and other relatives.
Each individual charged may face a prison term, fines, restitution, special assessments and a term of supervised release if convicted, says Memeger.
Jens Puhle, managing director of 8man - a business and management firm based in the UK - believes the alleged theft of GSK trade secrets highlights the need for "constant vigilance" within the pharmaceutical industry.
"The enormous value of secret research and other intellectual property to rivals and criminals means the pharmaceutical sector is particularly vulnerable to both external hackers and unscrupulous insiders.
Organizations must ensure that all sensitive data is locked down with strict access rights management controls, and accessible only on a need-to-know basis."
"With even the most senior employees still posting a potential risk, companies need to have advanced measures in place that will alert them whenever key files are accessed," Puhle continues. "By sounding the alarm the moment any suspicious behavior is detected, such as accessing files out of hours or offsite, they can catch thieves before it is too late."
Last year, Medical News Today revealed that researchers from the University of North Carolina had teamed up with GSK to help find a cure for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).