AstraZeneca partner FibroGen slaps former employees with trade secret theft lawsuit

FibroGen is cracking down on former employees accused of trade secret theft. The company filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in the Northern District of California.

The company slapped former employees Dong Liu, Ph.D., and Shaojiang Deng, Ph.D., with the suit to ask that the defendants stop their use of the propriety information and correct their patents to list the true owner, which is FibroGen, the company alleges. The company is also seeking compensation and wants the former employees to give up profits made from the patents they “wrongfully” claim.

Liu and Deng worked as scientists at FibroGen for years, giving the two access to the confidential information. Two years before Liu left the company in 2015, he founded Kind, a direct competitor of FibroGen. A few years later, in 2019, Deng left FibroGen to take on a leadership position at Kind. FibroGen is now accusing the two of using the company’s intellectual property and proprietary information to get a head start with Kind.

Allegedly, Deng and Liu filed a series of patent applications claiming FibroGen compounds without knowledge or consent of their former employer. These patents “list the incorrect inventors, omit the FibroGen scientists who invented the compounds and are wrongly assigned to Kind” as opposed to FibroGen, the lawsuit says.

The compounds in question are hypoxia-inducible factor prolyl hydroxylase enzyme inhibitors (HIF-PHIs), which are used to treat conditions such as anemia. FibroGen developed roxadustat, an AstraZeneca-partnered anemia drug that faced a notable FDA rejection recently.

“This unlawful head start was part of an intentional scheme for Defendants to secure financing and avoid years of research developing and identifying HIF-PHI compounds with clinical efficacy,” FibroGen attorneys said in the lawsuit. Kind was able to kick off its clinical trial for an HIF-PHI compound only six years after it was founded, a milestone FibroGen said the company could not have achieved without the alleged theft of FibroGen’s company property.

FibroGen’s roxa is marketed in Europe, China, Japan and other countries. The drug was issued a complete response letter in response to its FDA application last August, which came after a negative external advisory committee opinion and effectively ended the drug’s U.S. ambitions. GSK’s daprodustat, the latest oral anemia drug to seek FDA approval, recently got yes and no decisions from an FDA advisory committee. Experts voted 11-5 against the drug’s benefit in patients with chronic kidney disease-related anemia who are not on dialysis but 13-3 in support of its use in the dialysis-dependent population.