Incyte seeks billions after worker allegedly walks off with cancer drug secrets

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Delaware pharmaceutical developer Incyte says a scientist who left its ranks spilled company secrets about its most promising cancer-fighting drug to a Silicon Valley startup — intellectual property worth more than $1 billion.

Jordan Fridman worked at Incyte’s headquarters outside Wilmington for more than a decade, eventually rising through the ranks to become the drugmaker’s director of pharmacology.

But by early 2013, he was talking to another scientist in California about leaving for another job, court documents show.

Months later, Fridman began feeding Incyte’s trade secrets to a prospective employer, which used the information to secure a $1.25 billion acquisition by pharma giant Bristol-Myers Squibb in 2015, Incyte lawyers contend.

Now Incyte is locked in a race with Bristol-Myers Squibb to bring a new class of cancer drugs to market — one that’s benefiting from a running start made possible by Fridman’s corporate espionage, according to a lawsuit filed in Delaware Superior Court.

The three-year court fight pits one of Delaware’s most successful companies against the founders of Flexus Biosciences — a former Silicon Valley biotech startup whose purchase stunned the biotech world.

Flexus Biosciences had been in business for just 17 months and had yet to test a single treatment on humans. The sale price also was eye-popping considering Flexus had landed only $36 million in venture capital at that point.

“A pre-clinical biotech being acquired for more than $1 billion is largely unheard of,” said Reni Benjamin, an analyst at Raymond James & Associates Inc. in New York. “When you have tested things in rabbits, mice and monkeys, that is usually worth a lot less than when you have tested it in humans.”

To date, the Silicon Valley company ranks as one of the fastest launch-to-billion-dollar acquisition for any venture capital-backed U.S. startup.

Flexus’s astounding fortune also raised eyebrows in the executive boardroom of Delaware’s most promising drugmaker. Incyte was pioneering virtually the same combination therapy that had become the focus of Flexus’s business.

The company had already taken the experimental medication through early and mid-stage clinical trials — a rigorous research effort that dated back to 2006, according to the lawsuit. Yet Flexus managed to attract a buyer after delving into the science for mere months.

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