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Press Release

Second Former Glaxosmithkline Scientist Pleads Guilty to Stealing Trade Secrets to Benefit Chinese Pharmaceutical Company

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of Pennsylvania

PHILADELPHIA – U.S. Attorney William M. McSwain announced that Dr. Tao Li, 45, of San Diego, California, pleaded guilty today to conspiracy to steal trade secrets from GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) to benefit a Chinese pharmaceutical company named Renopharma.

Dr. Li and two of his friends, Dr. Yu Xue and Dr. Yan Mei, created Renopharma in Nanjing, China, supposedly to research and develop anti-cancer drugs.  In reality, though, Renopharma was used as a repository of stolen information from GSK.  Renopharma received financial support and subsidies from the government of China.  At the time, Xue was employed as a scientist at GSK working on developing biopharmaceutical products.  These products typically cost in excess of $1 billion to research and develop. 

Xue sent a substantial number of GSK’s scientific documents, some of which contained GSK trade secrets, to Li and Mei at Renopharma in China.  The data contained information regarding multiple biopharmaceutical products under development, GSK research data, and GSK processes regarding the research, development, and manufacturing of biopharmaceutical products.  Xue typically sent the documents via e-mail or transferred the documents via portable electronic storage devices.  Xue sent these documents to Li and Mei with the intention to convert GSK’s information for their economic benefit.  On January 5, 2016, the FBI arrested Li and seized his computer on which they found a number of GSK documents containing trade secret and confidential information which he had received from Xue. Xue previously pleaded guilty on August 31, 2018.

“Dr. Li illegally stole trade secrets to benefit himself and his company, which was financed by the Chinese government,” said U.S. Attorney McSwain. “The lifeblood of companies like GSK is its intellectual property, and when that property is stolen and transferred to a foreign country, it threatens thousands of jobs here in America.  Not only is this a serious crime, but it is literally a form of economic warfare against American interests.  Such criminal behavior must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

“GSK spends top dollar on research and development to bring new medications to market,” said Michael T. Harpster, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Philadelphia Division. “The theft of valuable trade secrets threatens products in the pipeline, to the detriment of both the company and the patients those drugs might help. It adds insult to injury when that know-how is diverted for the benefit of a foreign economic rival. The FBI is determined to stand up for the innovators creating products that improve people’s lives, by investigating and holding accountable those who would steal trade secrets.”

Tao Li is scheduled to be sentenced on January 4, 2018 before the Honorable Joel H. Slomsky.  The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Robert J. Livermore and Katherine E. Driscoll.

Updated September 14, 2018

Intellectual Property