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3 February 2022Big PharmaAlex Baldwin

Pfizer accuses ex-employees of stealing trade secrets for startup

Pfizer has sued two of its former executive staffers, alleging that they stole trade secrets related to diabetes medication before leaving the company.

According to a complaint filed with the US District Court for the District of Connecticut on Wednesday, Min Zhong and Xiayang Qiu “stole” trade secrets to secure funding for their side-project Regor Therapeutics.

The trade secrets essentially gave the two employees the “playbook” to develop their own diabetes and obesity treatment in a way that saved “significant money and years of development time”, Pizer said.

Zhong and Qiu allegedly took trade secrets and confidential information related to Pfizer’s own GLP-1 diabetes treatment programme weeks before handing in their notice and presented the information in a presentation designed to attract investment.

They also applied for patent protection for diabetes and obesity treatments that Pfizer called “strikingly similar” to its own.

“Without the critical head start Zhong and Qiu’s theft provided, Defendants could not have ‘developed’ their own purported treatment in such a short amount of time,” Pfizer claimed.

Pfizer is seeking damages to be determined at trial, a court ruling assigning all of Zhong and Qiu’s IP to Pfizer, and a “disengagement” of any funds received by Zhong and Qiu for their project.

Eli Lilly backing

Regor Therapeutics has since garnered significant investment from Eli Lilly to develop and commercialise “novel therapies for metabolic disorders”. Under the terms of the agreement, Regor Therapeutics is eligible to receive up to $1.5 billion in payments based on certain commercial and clinical milestones.

Upfront, Regor received “up to” $50 million, which included an equity investment from Lilly, according to an announcement from the pharmaceutical company in December last year.

In an announcement of the investment, Xiayang Qiu said: “In a little over three years, Regor has established a world-class research organisation exemplified by our Computer Accelerated Rational Discovery platform.

“This collaboration is a recognition of Regor's core technology and research capabilities, but more importantly, it is an extraordinary opportunity to discover, develop and commercialise novel therapeutics to help millions of patients… We are pleased to establish this strategic collaboration with Lilly, a top global leader in metabolic disorders such as diabetes and obesity.”

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