INDUSTRY NEWS: Theft of Trade Secrets Charged
Jiangyu Zhu and Kayoko Kimbara, presently residing in San Diego, California, were arrested in California by the FBI on a federal complaint issued out of federal court in Boston charging them with theft of trade secrets from Harvard Medical School’s Department of Cell Biology while they were research fellows. They were also charged with interstate transportation of stolen property and conspiracy.
According to the affidavit filed in support of the complaint, Zhu and Kimbara were working in Harvard Medical School’s Department of Cell Biology (“Harvard”) as post-doctoral research fellows on a research project in a lab under the direction of a professor Frank McKeon. Researchers in the laboratory used information, technology and chemical reagents previously developed by McKeon to screen drugs, proteins and genes in an effort to determine those drugs which might control organ rejection, and those genes which might control calcineurin. The lab was kept locked and considered secure.
The complaint alleges that using information, reagents and technology developed by the Harvard professor, and working under his direction, Zhu and Kimbara were involved in screening drugs, genes and proteins to find new agents that would block calcineurin, an immune cell constituent that when activated can cause organ transplant rejection. From November 1998 through February 1999, Kimbara was able to identify two genes which encode proteins that bind to calcineurin. Further research and analyses by Zhu and Kimbara from February 1999 through September 1999, showed that in addition to binding tightly to calcineurin, the two genes blocked the activity of calcineurin. These findings offered a potential means of treating a number of diseases affecting the immune, cardiovascular and nervous systems and therefore had significant commercial potential.
According to the complaint, by January or February 1999, Zhu and Kimbara began working from about 11:00 p.m to 9:00 a.m., thus enabling them to conceal their activities from their professor.
McKeon claims that Kimbara was doing work that she was not sharing with him. Although Zhu and Kimbara reported the discovery of four genes as a result of the genetic screenings performed by them in the Harvard professor’s lab, it is alleged that between February 1999 and August 1999, at least seven additional genes had been derived from preliminary genetic screenings performed by Zhu and Kimbara.
On December 13, 1999, Zhu received an offer of employment from the Institute of Biotechnology at the University of Texas, San Antonio. The day after receiving the offer, and while still employed at Harvard, Zhu is alleged to have sent an email to a biochemical company in Japan in which he stated his intent to collaborate with another researcher after he left Boston to commercialize the antibodies suggested by the research done in the Harvard laboratory. Furthermore, Zhu sent three new genes to Japan for the purpose of the Japanese biochemical company making antibodies against them, without the knowledge or authorization of the Harvard professor, and in direct violation of the Participation Agreement signed by both Zhu and Kimbara.
Zhu accepted the position with the University of Texas, both to run his own lab and to teach. Kimbara was also hired to work in the University of Texas laboratory. Both were scheduled to begin their employment on January 15, 2000.
Zhu and Kimbara allegedly removed, without permission or authorization, at least twenty cartons from McKeon’s laboratory in the very early morning hours or at night. Zhu and Kimbara allegedly made arrangements to ship more than thirty boxes of biologicals, books and documents to the University of Texas without permission or authorization.
According to the complaint, in June 2000, a significant percentage of the materials taken from Harvard by Zhu and Kimbara were recovered from their workspace at the University of Texas. However, many of the materials allegedly taken by Zhu and Kimbara from McKeon’s lab have not been recovered.
If convicted, Zhu and Kimbara each face a maximum sentence of five years’ imprisonment on the conspiracy charge, 10 years in prison on the theft of trade secrets charge, and 10 years in prison on the interstate transportation of stolen property charge. Additionally, the defendants face a maximum fine of $250,000 on each of the charges and any prison term would be followed by a three-year term of supervised release.
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