Pfizer, ex-employee reach a deal in COVID-19 vaccine trade secrets case

Pfizer building
Pfizer's lawsuit, filed in San Diego federal court late last month, focuses on the company's BioNTech-partnered COVID-19 vaccine, Comirnaty, as well as two monoclonal antibodies for cancer. (Tracy Staton)

A now-former Pfizer employee is playing nice after the drugmaker sued her in November alleging the 15-year veteran uploaded more than 12,000 sensitive files—including documents on the company's wildly successful COVID-19 vaccine—to personal devices and a Google Drive account. 

The defendant, Chun Xiao Li, agreed to let Pfizer's lawyers search her personal emails, Google drive accounts and all other personal computing devices or accounts that could contain confidential information or trade secrets by Dec. 6, court documents filed Monday show. 

Pfizer aims to complete its search by Dec. 29, at which point it will return Li's devices and accounts. By that same day, Li must send Pfizer a sworn declaration that she's cooperated with the investigation to the best of her ability and that she no longer possesses any proprietary information or trade secrets. Li also must swear that she's offered up all accounts and devices that could have been used to store or transfer the company's information, as well as the identities of the people, if any, who might have received that info.  

RELATED: Alvotech scores in AbbVie trade secrets case, but the Humira patent fight will stretch into next year

By January 5, the parties will let the court know whether any additional action needs to be taken, the filing says.

Pfizer's lawsuit, filed in San Diego federal court late last month, focuses on the company's BioNTech-partnered COVID-19 vaccine, Comirnaty, as well as two monoclonal antibodies for cancer. The suit accuses Li of misappropriation of trade secrets, breach of contract and more. 

Pfizer says the pilfered documents included a "playbook" covering the company's COVID-19 vaccine, Pfizer's relationship with BioNTech and presentations linked to cancer antibodies, Reuters reports

RELATED: Biotech co-founders admit to stealing trade secrets from Roche's Genentech, face possible prison terms

Pfizer and BioNTech's mRNA vaccine has swiftly climbed the ranks as the world's best-selling pharmaceutical product this year. The shot has brought in tens of billions of dollars as of the third quarter, with Pfizer now expecting to make $35 billion in Comirnaty sales this year. 

Pfizer's suit is just one of several high-profile trade secrets cases to play out this year. In August, two former employees at Roche's Genentech plead guilty to charges of conspiring to steal trade secrets from Genentech, as well as wire fraud. 

On the other end of the spectrum, Alvotech recently escaped a trade secrets suit with AbbVie tied to the drugmaker's megablockbuster Humira. In that case, AbbVie alleged that the Icelandic company had recruited one of its manufacturing execs, who then emailed himself “confidential and proprietary” information about Humira's manufacture shortly before his departure from the Big Pharma. In October, a federal judge in Illinois threw out the case for lack of jurisdiction.