Two scientists have been charged with conspiracy to steal trade secrets from pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline.
Yu Xue of Wayne, Pennsylvania, and Lucy Xi of West Lake Village, California, worked at the GSK research facility in Upper Merion, Pennsylvania.
In an affidavit, a FBI agent said the women and three others planned to sell intellectual property to GSK business competitors in China. The agent estimated that the data could be worth millions of dollars to rival companies.
Law enforcement officials reviewed email communications among the five over several years.
According to the criminal complaint, Xue downloaded confidential reports from GSK.
“Xue also used her GSK computer to download a substantial amount of intellectual property from GSK’s network, apparently onto a thumb drive or other portable storage device, to send this information to her conspirators,” the complaint said.
Xue, known to use the first name “Joyce,” is regarded as one of the top protein biochemists in the world.
Attorneys for Xue and Xi declined to comment.
Xue’s twin sister, Tian Xue, was also charged with conspiracy.
“I can assure you that my client will plead ‘not guilty’ and fight these charges in court,” said her attorney David Schertler in an email.
In a written statement, GSK said the company is cooperating with the investigation.
“We do not believe the breach has had any material impact on the company’s business or R&D activity,” it said.
The company is reviewing its data protection policies.
The unauthorized transfer of proprietary information is a violation of company policies, but because collaboration is essential to advancing science, GSK “encourages appropriate sharing of information for the benefit of science, patients and the company,” the company statement said.