Trade Secrets, Theft Allegations Levied Against Merck Employee
Prior to leaving the company in 2019 for competitor AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals LP, Shafat Quadri, a former Merck & Co.director of medical and scientific affairs for immuno-oncology, allegedly copied proprietary information pertaining to multiple cancer research projects.
According to the Department of Justice (DOJ), the 57-year-old Quadri has been arrested and charged by complaint with one count of theft of trade secrets and one count of unauthorized transmission of trade secrets. Quadri made an initial appearance via videoconference by U.S. Magistrate Judge Cathy L. Waldor and was subsequently released on an unsecured bond of $100 000.
The filing to the U.S. District Court District of New Jersey, dated December 31st, 2020, states that the materials allegedly include compound data, strategic plans related to translational and biomarker data, therapeutic program reviews, abstract publications, plans for Congressional presentations, drug monitoring, and compound publication.
Though Merck was not named specifically in the complaint and is instead referred to as ‘Company 1’, all indicators point to the pharmaceutical giant. These include a LinkedIn page belonging to an individual named Shafat Quadri who claims to have worked for Merck from June 15th-September 19th – matching the timeframe of the complaint - and a chart in the court documents which reference MRL, an abbreviation that appears to be for Merck Research Laboratories as it highlights specific research mirroring Merck projects.
According to court documents, “company 1’ is based in New Jersey and is one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world, creating vaccines, medicines, and consumer healthcare products. Company 1 is incorporated in New Jersey and maintains email servers in New Jersey.”
An internal investigation that took place around October 2019 revealed the alleged theft around the same time as Quadri left Merck, and Federal Authorities allegedly uncovered further evidence during a search of his Maryland home. During the investigation, the company presumed to be Merck discovered “thousands of Proprietary Files, Including Trade Secrets, transferred to Quadri’s personal email accounts and thumb drives.”
On his LinkedIn page, Quadri claims to be currently employed by AstraZeneca and that he has been for 1 year and 5 months. The company, however, refutes this claim:
“We can confirm that this individual is not currently employed by AstraZeneca. Beyond that, we cannot comment further,” an AstraZeneca spokesperson told BioSpace.
Incidentally, in July of 2017, Merck and AstraZeneca announced that they would partner to develop cancer therapies using AstraZeneca’s PARP inhibitor, Lynparza, in combination with PD-1 inhibitors developed by both companies.
Merck launched itself as a major player in oncology with the introduction of Keytruda in 2014. The cancer immunotherapy indicated for melanoma, lung cancer, head and neck cancer, Hodgkin lymphoma, and stomach cancer, netted Merck nearly $10.4 billion in worldwide sales during the first nine months of 2020 alone.
According to a review of Quadri’s work-issued computer, included among the 12 private documents sent from Quadri’s work email to his private emails was proprietary information related to an immunotherapy drug that helps fight certain cancers, identified as Company 1’s leading oncology asset.
If found guilty, Quadri could face a maximum potential penalty of up to 10 years in prison, along with a fine of up to $250 000.
This is far from the only contemporary case alleging trade secret theft in the pharmaceutical industry.
Bayer AG filed a complaint in March 2020 against a supply chain business architect named Hai Zeng for allegedly sending hundreds of the company’s files to his personal email and Dropbox accounts. In 2019, CSL Behringbrought a civil action against a senior medical affairs director named Joseph Chiao, whom it contends took more than 21 000 files from 2500 network folders containing proprietary information about product development, marketing strategies, and other key company data.