RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – A former scientist at drug giant GlaxoSmithKline has pleaded guilty in a federal case revolving around the stealing of trade secrets from GSK and forwarding the information to a Chinese firm backed by China’s government.

The case dates back to 2016.

The latest to plead guilty is Lucy Xi.

“Lucy Xi’s co-defendants, Yu Xue, Tao Li and Yan Mei, established Renopharma supposedly to research and develop anti-cancer drugs. In reality, though, the company was used as a repository of information stolen from GSK. Renopharma received financial support and subsidies from the government of China. At the time, Lucy Xi (who was married to Yan Mei) and Yu Xue were employed as a scientists at a GSK facility in Upper Merion, PA, which worked on developing biopharmaceutical products. These products typically cost in excess of $1 billion to research and develop,” the Justice Department said in announcing the guilty plea.

Prosecutores noted that Yu Xue, her sister, Tian Xue, and Tao Li “have all pleaded guilty for their roles in this conspiracy. Yan Mei is a fugitive who currently resides in China.”

“This defendant illegally stole trade secrets to benefit her husband’s company, which was financed by the Chinese government,” said U.S. Attorney Williams in a statement. “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 American jobs and jeopardizes the strategic benefits brought about through research and development. Such criminal behavior must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

According to the Justice Department, in January 2015 “Lucy Xi sent Yan Mei a GSK document which contained confidential and trade secret data and information. The document provided a summary of GSK research into monoclonal antibodies at that time. In the body of the e-mail, Lucy Xi wrote, ‘You need to understand it very well. It will help you in your future business [RENOPHARMA].'”

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GSK operates a major R&D center in the Triangle and a manufacturing plant in Wendell.