Third former GlaxoSmithKline scientist pleads guilty to stealing company secrets

A third former GlaxoSmithKline scientist has admitted her guilt in a conspiracy to steal secrets from the company to benefit a company in China.

In the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Lucy Xi, 44, filed her plea on Monday. She formerly worked on developing antibody drugs at GSK’s facility in Upper Merion, Pa.

In January 2015, Xi sent a document that included confidential information on GSK research on monoclonal antibodies to her husband Yan Mei, who remains a fugitive in China, the court said.

“You need to understand it very well,” Xi wrote in the body of an email. “It will help you in your future business.”

Xi is the fourth person to plead guilty in the scheme, which came to light in 2016 after an FBI probe. In 2018, two other former GSK scientists, Yu Xue and Tao Li, admitted guilt along with Xue’s twin sister, Tian Xue of Charlotte, N.C.

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Yu Xue, said to be the ringleader of the group, had earned her reputation as one of the top chemists at GSK in her 10 years with the company after receiving her Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina.

Xue set up Renopharma, a company that acted as a repository for the secrets stolen from GSK, according to court documents. The Chinese government funded Renopharma to the tune of $300,000 and provided free lab space to the company.

Tao Li, who also received his Ph.D. from UNC, acted as Renopharma’s fundraiser in China, the documents say.

“This defendant illegally stole trade secrets to benefit her husband’s company, which was financed by the Chinese government,” U.S. attorney Jennifer Arbittier Williams said of Li. “The lifeblood of companies like GSK is its intellectual property, and when that property is stolen and transferred to a foreign country, it threatens thousands of American jobs and jeopardizes the strategic benefits brought about through research and development. Such criminal behavior must be prosecuted.”

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Earlier this year, federal prosecutors failed to convince a court to order restitution in the case. U.S. judge Joel Harvey Slomsky ruled that the prosecutors didn’t show that GSK suffered financial loss in the case or that the company should be reimbursed for $400,000 in legal expenses.