Pfizer accuses former employees of 'treachery' in stealing trade secrets to form Regor Therapeutics

Pfizer has accused two former employees who went on to form a new biotech of stealing “the hard work” of the Big Pharma’s own scientists for a diabetes and obesity program, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday.

“Instead of carrying out their ethical and contractual responsibilities as Pfizer employees, they decided to steal the hard work of Pfizer’s scientists and clinicians for their own profit and gain,” the complaint says of former employees Min Zhong and Xiayang Qiu.

The complaint alleges that Zhong and Qiu set up Regor Therapeutics while still employed at Pfizer, meeting with international financial backers to secure funding. Zhong and Qiu also set up a second company called QILU Regor Therapeutics.

The company is focused on metabolic diseases and signed a biobucks deal with Eli Lilly in December worth $1.5 billion. While the focus of that pact was not revealed at the time, Lilly is well known for its diabetes franchise and is testing one of those therapies as an obesity treatment. Pfizer said in its complaint that the Lilly deal includes a license for Regor’s small-molecule GLP-1R agonist patents.

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Pfizer said the defendants stole trade secrets and confidential information for weeks before giving notice that they would be leaving the company. The complaint said a confidential document, stripped of Pfizer confidentiality marks, was uploaded to a personal account two months before Zhong and Qiu left. They later used this information in a new presentation “about a revolutionary new diabetes and obesity drug” that Pfizer said detailed confidential information from its GLP-1 program.

“The Pfizer trade secrets and confidential information that Qiu and Zhong stole essentially gave defendants the playbook and the critical underlying science and data to develop their own supposed diabetes and obesity treatment, an unlawful head start that saved defendants significant money and years of development time,” Pfizer said.

Within months of founding Regor, Pfizer said the defendants filed for patent protection for a treatment "strikingly similar" to Pfizer’s diabetes and obesity treatment. The company says that Qiu, who serves as CEO at Regor, and Zhong, who is chief operating officer, could not have developed such a treatment in such a short amount of time without the theft.

The alleged theft was discovered after a forensic analysis of Qiu's and Zhong’s Pfizer accounts and devices. Zhong’s Pfizer-issued iPhone has not been recovered.

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“Pfizer conducted its analysis after it first suspected defendants’ treachery upon publication of Regor’s patent application that claimed the fruits of Pfizer’s yearslong research,” the complaint said.

Pfizer notes that Regor has managed to “entice” Lilly into signing the billion-dollar-plus deal.

The complaint alleges that Qiu and Zhong misappropriated trade secrets in violation of the Defend Trade Secrets Act as well as Connecticut trade secret laws.

The New York pharma has two GLP-1 candidates under development for diabetes and obesity. Danuglipron is in phase 2 development while PF-07081532 is in phase 1, according to Pfizer’s pipeline.

“Pfizer’s small molecule GLP-1 receptor agonist technology is highly promising from both a clinical and commercial perspective—and the trade secrets and confidential information behind it would also be highly lucrative to a competitor looking to avoid Pfizer’s substantial investment while reaping the commercial benefits,” the complaint said.

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According to Regor’s leadership page and the complaint, Qiu served as executive director of structural biology at Pfizer-Connecticut, where he led as many as 60 scientists through drug discovery efforts. His group contributed to 29 clinical candidates. Qiu also served on expert review panels for the National Institutes of Health.

Zhong spent 19 years in Pfizer’s R&D organization, most recently as director of pharmacokinetics, dynamics and metabolism (PDM) and head of its external research solutions group, according to the complaint. In that role, he was responsible for business development for Pfizer’s worldwide R&D external research portfolios as well as scientific/compliance oversight for the PDM group’s regulatory submissions.

Both were working on the GLP program before their departure from Pfizer in 2018, according to the complaint.

“Zhong and Qiu could have continued to build on this important, life-saving work at Pfizer for years to come, but they made a different choice: to take Pfizer’s trade secrets and confidential information unlawfully to launch a competing company,” according to the complaint.

A request for comment sent to Regor was not returned as of publication.