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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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May 8, 2012

Laboratory Crime, Not Paying

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Posted by Derek

You'll remember the Sanofi chemist who was caught selling proprietary compounds through her own Chinese outsourcing company. Now, via Pharmalot, comes word that Yuan Li has been sentenced to 18 months in prison, along with paying $131,000 in restitution. This foolproof business plan has turned out not to perform up to expectations. Perhaps this example will keep another fool from trying it?

Comments (14) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: The Dark Side


1. Interesting on May 8, 2012 10:58 AM writes...

Is this just a case of a bad apple doing the wrong thing, or would you say his mistake is culturally influenced?

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2. CR on May 8, 2012 11:48 AM writes...

Hard to say what HER mistake was without a complete explantion.

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3. nord on May 8, 2012 12:34 PM writes...

Hard to get a complete EXPLANATION of a situation where those involved are actively dsinohset...

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4. Josh on May 8, 2012 12:45 PM writes...

An extra 6 months for being a moron would have been appropriate

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5. MTK on May 8, 2012 1:55 PM writes...


Thankfully being a moron isn't a crime.

I've suffered enough already, thank you.

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6. Anonymous on May 8, 2012 4:32 PM writes...

I can't shake the feeling this was actually a tax dodge, setting up a fake company for tax deductions and fraud as opposed to actually synthesizing and selling compounds. From the albeit little I've read it seems like they had a website, a catalog, and tax documents and that's it. It would also explain why they didn't think Sanofi would care, then after getting caught the penalty was probably lower than tax fraud so they just went with it, but that's just my conspiracy theory.

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7. Anonymous on May 8, 2012 6:41 PM writes...

Yaaa...but being incarcerated in NJ isn't going to be fun!!! The good news is I guess it won't be Passaic or Essex county. The bad news is it won't be much far off....from what I hear 18mo. in an NJ prison is like 5-10yrs in others.

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8. Ex NJ Chemist on May 8, 2012 6:53 PM writes...

Maybe Yuan Li can be a cell mate of Tianle Li (the BMS chemist who poisoned her husband to death with thallium).

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9. Not Me on May 8, 2012 8:05 PM writes...


I resemble that remark! (nyuk nyuk nyuk)

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10. Anonymous on May 9, 2012 12:05 AM writes...

I wonder when, and if, she goes back to China whether she'll be received as a hero or a failure?

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11. experienced chemist on May 9, 2012 12:07 AM writes...

This accident certainly made headline news in our chemistry community. Why did she choose this? Moron, idiot , whatever you call her? My guess is she was almost no longer officially with Sanofi when she set up her own business. She knew she would be laid off by Sanofi sooner or later. She just wanted to earn some easy money before she left the company. What choice did she have under those circumstances? Selling the proprietary compounds at Sanofi is a foolproof business. You can imagine any precious compound could be worth lots of $. If she could sell hundreds of those chemicals before she finally left the company, there would be enough money for her to spend. At that moment, the rumor was spreading at Sanofi. Closing the site, laying off chemists etc were the routine topics for nearly everybody. She thought nobody would care of her since they were more focused on their own careers. But one big lesson she didn't realize is no one should violate the law under no circumstances. Yeh, she didn't need to do any lab work at that moment and still got paid. Everyone did the same thing. Typically before a bid decision was announced by the top executives, people couldn't pay attention to what they did. This is the reason why she chose to open her own business. I am more curious how much money she actually earned. Propably not that much. Definitely that money was not worth the 18 months in prison and $130000 restitution fee. She did something illegal under such a special circumstance. One warning I will share with all of you is: no matter what happens in your company including layoff etc, you should never steal your company's stuff. That's illegal. Anyone does this will be seriously punished by law. No one in above the law. Despite the company was facing a financial challenge, there was no short of money to be apent to fight againt these sorts of crimes. I wouldn't do this kind of business. What on earth could you avoid the monitoring by the security? Another final point is this is not culture related. There are some bad apples in every ethnicity. Of course there are many good examples in every group of people. So please treat this case as a special case and don't make a general conclusion.

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12. anonyMouse on May 10, 2012 4:39 PM writes...

Yuan Li was a lab tech in chemistry at sanofi for several years. It is thought that she downloaded the structures that were later posted to the web during that time. She changed jobs and was working in project management when she was arrested. She was in no danger of being laid off at that point.

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13. Anon on May 11, 2012 7:33 AM writes...

AnonyMouse is correct. Ms. Li was a bench chemist at Sanofi but got a pretty coveted business liason (project manager) job. It was some of the chemists in France that first started noticing Sanofi compounds when they were doing SciFinder searches and then the chemists at Bridgewater started seeing their compounds pop up as commercially available. I believe I read that these were never actually sold - from Ms. Li's interview; she simply added them to the company's website to increase the amount of compounds they have for sale. Much like many of these CRO's that claim compounds are "available" until you contact them and they tell you it's an 8 week lag time.

It is interesting to wonder what will happen when she returns to China. If she were an US resident, she would probably not work in this business again. But being a Chinese national - will be go back and possibly work for Sanofi again - through a Chinese company?

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14. TsOH on May 13, 2012 9:24 PM writes...

So much for the "Office Space" defense, huh?

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