From this week's C&EN, an article about a WuXi employee in Shanghai from Marc Reisch:
A former employee of Chinese contract research firm WuXi PharmaTech has been convicted of stealing samples of several proprietary Merck & Co. compounds and offering them for sale over the Internet through a broker. WuXi says it was the first theft of intellectual property in the firm’s 11-year history.
According to Chinese media reports, the unidentified WuXi assistant researcher was sentenced on May 22 by a Chinese court to pay restitution of $45,000. He also was sentenced to an 18-month prison term, although the sentence was suspended because he is a first-time offender.
“We regret that one of our employees committed a crime on our premises,” says WuXi CEO Ge Li, identifying the victim of the theft only as “a customer.” Li also notes that the breach of the company’s security protocols is an isolated case and involves only samples of two patented compounds whose chemical structures are available in patent filings.
A Merck spokesman tells C&EN only that Merck “believes the situation has been satisfactorily resolved.” According to Chinese reports, the pharmaceutical maker initially got wind of the conspiracy in March 2011 when it discovered a website that was offering to sell MK-3102, an oral dipeptidyl peptidase-4 inhibitor then under development as a treatment for type 2 diabetes.
I'm really rather skeptical that this is the first time that IP has been stolen from WuXi (or its customers.) Also, does this mean that large pharmaceutical companies need to be trolling the backwaters of the web, looking for structures of their proprietary compounds?
I have long thought that it is interesting that there is very little active industrial espionage in the established pharmaceutical industry. That Abbott employees do not have to fend off Merck agents while taking their documents to the shredder bin suggests that there is simply not enough benefit to make such measures worthwhile. One wonders if, in China, such espionage efforts might just be worth the trouble?