4 August 2020
Li Chen, 46, pleaded guilty on 30 July, via video conference in U.S. District Court today to conspiring to steal scientific trade secrets and conspiring to commit wire fraud concerning exosome research. Exosomes play a key role in the research, identification and treatment of a range of medical conditions in children.
Li Chen was a trusted researcher at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, conducting cutting-edge U.S. government-funded research. Chen worked in this research lab from 2008 until 2018.
Her husband, co-conspirator Yu Zhou, 49, worked in separate medical research labs at the Research Institute for 10 years from 2007 until 2017.
Chen and Zhou were arrested in California in July 2019 and their case was unsealed in August 2019 when they appeared in federal court in Columbus.
They are charged with conspiring to steal at least five trade secrets related to exosome research from Nationwide Children’s Hospital.
She admitted to establishing a company in China to sell exosome “isolation kits.” These kits facilitate treatment of a wide range of medical conditions in children. For this she received benefits from the Chinese government, including the State Administration of Foreign Expert Affairs and the National Natural Science Foundation of China. Chen also applied to multiple Chinese government talent plans, a method used by China to transfer foreign research and technology to the Chinese government.
As part of her plea, Chen has agreed to forfeit approximately $1.4 million, 500,000 shares of common stock of Avalon GloboCare Corp. and 400 shares of common stock of GenExosome Technologies Inc.
Assistant Attorney General for National Security said that People’s Republic of China (PRC) is implicated in around 60 percent of all trade secret theft cases.
According to FBI Director Christopher Wray, the FBI is engaging with over 1,000 open cases against Chinese nationals for this type of crime. He said that China systematically uses academic exchange programs like the “Thousand Talents” initiative to steal American trade and scientific secrets.