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Five Charged For Pharmaceutical Espionage

Spying for major governments is a dull affair, unlike what is often portrayed in movies. Spying for a pharmaceutical company, seeking trade secrets, may be equally as prosaic, but it can deliver very lucrative rewards – unless you are caught, of course.

Being caught is what has happened to five people to face prosecution in the U.S. They are charged with spying, although they have yet to be found guilty.

The charge against the five, according to The New York Times, is they took part in an alleged scheme to steal biopharmaceutical trade secrets from the British based global company GlaxoSmithKline. Apparently, the prosecutors contend, the secrets were to be sold to pharmaceutical organizations based in China.

The charges, as reported by The Wall Street Journal, are “conspiracy to steal trade secrets” together with “conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering.” These are serious enough; however, there may also have been a risk to public health since there is no guarantee the product manufactured would have been formulated in precisely the same way. The medicinal products targeted were designed to treat cancer or other serious diseases. The potential value of the intellectual properly, if it was turned into a rival product, could have been up to $1 billion.

One of those charged is a scientist called Yu Xue, who was Glaxo’s employee at the time an alleged spying activity took place. Xue apparently emailed and downloaded confidential information. He also met and worked with other defendants to set up three corporations in China, designed to act as intermediary organization to sell the stolen intellectual property to Chinese companies.

If proven it could be a sad drop in standing for Xue, as he was, Pharmaceutical Processing magazine stated: “regarded as one of the top protein biochemists in the world”. His work was primarily on anti-cancer drugs.

In addition to Xue, the other people charged are: Li, of Nanjing, China; Tian Xue, of North Carolina; Lucy Xi, of California; and Yan Mei, of Nanjing, China.

About the author

Tim Sandle

Dr. Tim Sandle is a chartered biologist and holds a first class honours degree in Applied Biology; a Masters degree in education; and has a doctorate from Keele University.