Chinese scientist convicted of stealing Merck's experimental drugs

Just how much are your drug trade secrets worth? For a scientist working for China's WuXi PharmaTech, a prominent contract research group, the right figure for a batch of two of Merck's experimental drugs was about $7,000 on the black market.

News reports from Chinese media outlets and The Wall Street Journal say that the researcher, identified by the Journal as Wang Hui, nabbed 2.38 grams worth of MK-3102 and MK-5172 and sold it to a middleman he found on the Internet. Officials, though, caught up with the errant investigator and sent him to court, where he was fined $7,000 and sentenced to 18 months of probation.

The case quickly triggered a buzz on the Internet, with bloggers picking up the salacious details. As China emerges as a global R&D hub for the biopharma industry, WuXi PharmaTech has become one of the most prominent outsourcing groups in the country. But the theft raises old and troubling questions about the traditional disregard in China for intellectual property. Big Pharma companies like Merck see China as a less expensive center for R&D. But the prospect of losing control of experimental therapeutics--especially when they can be bartered away for a few thousand dollars--would send a shiver down the spine of any biopharma exec.

Simmons & Simmons attorney Lewis Ho tells the Journal that outsourcing helps "drive down the R&D expense but in return you would not be able to have the same level of protection as with your own employees." WuXi PharmaTech's statement said the thief was a junior employee and the theft was the only incident in 11 years of operations. And Merck says it's satisfied. But this is one incident which has much broader implications.

- read the Wall Street Journal story
- here's a rough translation of the report in China's Evening News