FibroGen, former employees settle dispute over alleged trade secrets theft

Nearly a year and a half after FibroGen slapped a pair of former employees with a lawsuit alleging trade secrets theft, both the plaintiffs and the defendants are walking away from the case little worse for wear.

China’s Andao Pharmaceutical and California-based Kind Pharmaceuticals, along with the latter company’s CEO and chief scientific officer, Dong Liu, Ph.D., and Shaojing Deng, Ph.D., this week announced a mutual agreement with FibroGen to withdraw legal proceedings in the trade secrets spat.

Neither FibroGen nor Andao or Kind are on the hook for any type of payment or compensation, according to a press release issued by Kind.

FibroGen originally sued Liu and Deng in December 2022 for allegedly pinching proprietary information and filing improper patents around hypoxia-inducible factor prolyl hydroxylase enzyme inhibitors (HIF-PHIs)—a class of drug used to treat anemia that includes FibroGen’s Astellas- and AstraZeneca-partnered roxadustat.

Liu and Deng worked as scientists at FibroGen for years. In 2013, two years before leaving FibroGen, Liu founded Kind, according to a court order from last month. Deng joined Kind in a leadership position in 2019.

Liu also founded Hangzhou Andao Pharmaceutical and became chairman, CEO and general manager of that company before formally exiting FibroGen, according to the court order, which granted and denied certain parts of the defendants' motion for dismissal.

In its case, FibroGen said its former employees hatched an “international scheme” to give Kind an “unlawful head start” in order to avoid “years of research developing and identifying HIF-PHI compounds with clinical efficacy.”

FibroGen originally sought to stop Kind from using its proprietary information and pressure the company to list FibroGen as the true owner on its HIF-PHI patents. FibroGen also wanted compensation and for its former employees to forfeit any profits made from patents they “wrongfully” claimed.

With the new settlement in place, Kind Pharma is now “free to develop” its lead HIF-PHI candidate AND017 and other similar drugs in its pipeline, Kind explained in its press release. AND017 is in midphase testing in anemia and cancer-related anemia, according to Kind’s online pipeline.

"Kind is pleased that these disputes have been fully and finally resolved,” Liu said in a statement. “With these disputes behind us, Kind can now focus on advancing its innovative pipeline of products to the market.”

As for FibroGen’s roxadustat, the drug has fallen victim to a string of setbacks in the U.S. that culminated in late February with AstraZeneca returning the rights to FibroGen for the HIF-PHI in a range of territories outside China and South Korea, where it’s approved under the brand name Evrenzo.

The decision came on the heels of a phase 3 trial flop and an FDA complete response letter for roxadustat in anemia associated with chronic kidney disease in the U.S.

Outside China and Korea, Astellas has a deal with FibroGen to market Evrenzo in Japan and Europe.