Twist Bio's hard-charging CEO hit by claims she stole Agilent's trade secrets

Twist Bioscience CEO Emily Leproust

Over the past year fast-growing Twist Bioscience has hurtled ahead under the guidance of CEO Emily Leproust. The three-year-old company has ramped up new, faster technology for churning out synthetic DNA that can be used in drug experiments and much more, snagging $133 million in venture cash and stirring buzz about a possible IPO.

On Wednesday, Leproust's former employer, Agilent, filed a lawsuit claiming that she had stolen the trade secrets that made her rapid success possible.

Twist quickly responded in a statement, though, saying the claims were meritless and adding that Agilent was just looking to use the claim to quash a competitor.

According to the suit, Leproust used her job at Agilent--improving oligonucleotide synthesis--to set up Twist. And within three months of her departure, the executive had gathered nearly $5 million for her new venture and was ready to roll.

"Leproust secretly laid the groundwork for a theft of Agilent technology, beginning on or before February 2012, more than one year before she resigned from Agilent," the lawsuit claims. She registered a website for Twist, pitched venture capitalists on the idea and then turned around and "poached" key employees after she left.

"The intellectual property and know-how stolen by Leproust and Twist make up the leading edge of oligo-synthesis technology that took more than twenty years, tens of millions of dollars, and the work of a large interdisciplinary team of Agilent scientists and engineers to develop."

Twist fired back that it plans to fight off the suit, which it sees as nothing more than a competitive attempt to "stifle" its work on synthetic DNA.

"Agilent's complaint was filed today and Twist Bioscience has not yet been served with the filing," the company spokesperson noted in a statement to FierceBiotech. "It did receive the complaint from the WSJ (Wall Street Journal), to whom Agilent apparently leaked the complaint. Twist Bioscience will review the complaint carefully, and intends to defend itself vigorously against what it believes to be meritless claims, which Twist Bioscience denies. Twist Bioscience respects the intellectual property of others, including Agilent, and likewise expects others to respect Twist Bioscience's valuable IP. Twist Bioscience can only conclude that Agilent's suit is an attempt by a much larger competitor to stifle innovation and competition. Twist Bioscience believes that the marketplace is the best place to determine winners and losers."