Former Research Chemist at Global Pharmaceutical Company Sentenced to 18 Months in Prison for Theft of Trade Secrets

TRENTON—A former research chemist with global pharmaceutical company sanofi-aventis (sanofi) was sentenced today to 18 months in prison for stealing sanofi’s trade secrets and making them available for sale through Abby Pharmatech Inc. (Abby), the U.S. subsidiary of a Chinese chemicals company, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.

Yuan Li, 30, of Somerset, New Jersey, a Chinese national, previously pleaded guilty to an information charging her with one count of theft of trade secrets. Li entered her guilty plea before U.S. District Judge Joel A. Pisano, who also imposed the sentence today in Trenton federal court.

According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court: Sanofi is a global health care company with U.S. headquarters in Bridgewater, New Jersey. Among other things, sanofi is engaged in the development, manufacture, and marketing of health care products including the prescription drugs Allegra, Plavix, Copaxone, and Ambien. Li worked as a research scientist at sanofi’s Bridgewater headquarters from October 2006 through June 2011, where she directly assisted in the development of a number of compounds that sanofi viewed as potential building blocks for future drugs. These compounds were sanofi’s trade secrets and had not been disclosed outside sanofi in any manner, including by means of a patent application.

While employed at sanofi, Li was also a 50 percent partner in Abby, which is engaged in the sale and distribution of pharmaceuticals. Li admitted that between January 2010 and June 2011, she accessed an internal sanofi database and downloaded information related to a number of sanofi compounds, including their chemical structures, onto her sanofi-issued laptop computer. She also admitted she then transferred the information to her personal home computer by sending it to her personal e-mail address or via a USB thumb drive. Li acknowledged that she made the stolen compounds available for sale on Abby’s website. In addition to the prison term, Judge Pisano sentenced Li to serve two years of supervised release and ordered her to pay $131,000 in restitution.