Pfizer has sued a longtime employee for allegedly stealing “scores” of documents – including some related to the company’s COVID-19 vaccine – as she prepared to jump to a competitor.
In a complaint filed on Tuesday in San Diego federal court, Pfizer said Chun Xiao Li breached her confidentiality agreement by uploading more than 12,000 files without permission to personal accounts and devices from her company-issued laptop.
The alleged materials include a Sept. 24 “playbook” containing internal assessments and recommendations about the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, Pfizer’s relationship with its German vaccine partner, and presentations related to cancer antibodies.
Pfizer said Li, an associate director of statistics, tried repeatedly to cover her tracks, even providing a “decoy” laptop to obscure what she did with the files.
Li “has misled Pfizer about what she took, how she took it, when and why she did it, and where those files (and possibly others) can be found,” the New York-based drugmaker said.
Pfizer said Li is resigning after 15 years at the company, and appears to have an offer to join Xencor — a clinical-stage company with offices near Carmel Valley — focusing on treatments for cancer and autoimmune diseases.
Pfizer also has a San Diego office, near Torrey Pines. Xencor is headquartered in Monrovia.
Li could not immediately be reached for comment through her LinkedIn account. Xencor, not a defendant in the lawsuit, declined to comment.
Pfizer said competitors have been trying to recruit its employees “relentlessly, especially during 2021.”
In an order late Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Cathy Ann Bencivengo — a federal judge in the Southern District of California, located in San Diego — temporarily blocked Li from using Pfizer’s trade secrets.
She added that the company’s lawyers can review accounts and devices where she might have stored them.
The judge scheduled a Dec. 9 hearing to consider a longer injunction.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York, with additional reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; editing by Leslie Adler)