Pfizer Inc. sued a longtime employee for allegedly stealing “dozens” of documents – some related to the company’s COVID-19 vaccine – as she prepared to switch to a competitor.
In a lawsuit filed in federal court in San Diego on Tuesday, Pfizer said Chun Xiao Li violated his confidentiality agreement by downloading more than 12,000 files without authorization to personal accounts and devices from his laptop provided by the company.
The alleged documents include a September 24 “playbook” containing internal evaluations and recommendations on the Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine, Pfizer’s relationship with its German vaccine partner, and presentations related to cancer antibodies.
Pfizer said Li, deputy director of statistics, had repeatedly tried to cover his tracks, even providing a “decoy” laptop to hide what she was doing with the files.
Li “misled Pfizer as to what she took, how she took it, when and why she took it, and where these files (and possibly others) can be found,” a said the New York-based drug maker.
Pfizer said Li was stepping down after 15 years in the business and appeared to have an offer to join Xencor Inc. – a clinical-stage company with offices near Carmel Valley – focusing on treatments for cancer and autoimmune diseases. .
Pfizer also has an office in San Diego, near Torrey Pines. Xencor is headquartered in Monrovia.
Li could not be immediately reached for comment via her LinkedIn account. Xencor, not a defendant in the lawsuit, declined to comment.
Pfizer said competitors had tried to recruit its employees “relentlessly, especially in 2021”.
In an order Tuesday night, U.S. District Judge Cathy Ann Bencivengo – a federal judge from the Southern District of California, located in San Diego – temporarily barred Li from using Pfizer’s trade secrets.
She added that lawyers for the company can examine the accounts and devices where she may have stored them.
The judge has scheduled a hearing on December 9 to consider a longer injunction.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York, with additional reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; editing by Leslie Adler)