Pfizer says longtime employee stole COVID-19 vaccine secrets

  • Pfizer has accused a longtime employee of stealing “lots” of confidential documents from the company.
  • These included documents related to Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, the company said in a lawsuit.
  • Pfizer is suing Chun Xiao Li, who is retiring after 15 years in the company.

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Pfizer has sued a longtime employee for allegedly stealing “lots” of confidential documents, including some related to their COVID-19 vaccine, as she prepared to jump into a competitor.

In a lawsuit filed Tuesday in San Diego federal court, Pfizer said Chun Xiao Li broke her confidentiality agreement by uploading more than 12,000 files without permission to her personal accounts and devices from her corporate laptop.

The alleged materials include a September 24 “playbook” containing internal assessments and recommendations on the Pfizer / BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, Pfizer’s relationship with its German vaccine partner, and presentations related to cancer antibodies.

Pfizer said Li, an associate director of statistics, repeatedly tried to cover his tracks, even delivering a “decoy” laptop.

Li “has misled Pfizer about what she took, how she took it, when and why she did it, and where these files (and possibly others) can be found,” the New York-based drugmaker said.

Pfizer said Li is retiring after 15 years at the company, and appears to have an offer to join Xencor, a California-based clinical company focusing on treatments for cancer and autoimmune diseases, on Nov. 29.

Li could not be immediately reached for comment via his LinkedIn account. Xencor is not suing in the lawsuit and declined to comment.

Pfizer said competitors have been trying to recruit its employees “relentlessly, especially during 2021.”

In a late Tuesday ruling, U.S. District Judge Cathy Ann Bencivengo temporarily blocked Li from using Pfizer’s trade secrets, saying the company’s lawyers can review accounts and devices where she may have kept them.

The judge scheduled a hearing on Dec. 9 to consider a longer ban.

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