Here’s a messy situation that’s playing out in court:
Incyte Corporation sued Flexus Biosciences, its CEO Terry Rosen and its president and research director Juan Jaen, on Sept. 4 in New Castle County Court.
Incyte claims the defendants hired away Jordan Fridman, its chief scientific officer, because he was one of only a few Incyte employees privy to the successful clinical results of the cancer drug known as IDO-1 inhibitor. . .
Incyte claims Fridman had signed a confidentiality agreement with it, but provided Flexus with trade secrets that helped the biotechnology startup sell its assets to Bristol-Meyers Squibb for $1.25 billion just 18 months after forming.
You may be wondering just what sort of trade secrets these must have been to take things from zero to a billion dollar buy-out in 18 months. The claim is that Fridman took news of the successful IDO trial along with him, and (as the filings says) encouraged the Flexus founders to “bet the company” on the same mechanism. Now that would, of course, be confidential information, and it would definitely be worth knowing. It certainly doesn’t make the second IDO program more likely to work, though, unless there’s some detail in the patient selection for the clinical trials that wasn’t obvious and was crucial for success.
But Incyte is also claiming that Fridman spent three months in between giving notice and leaving the company, all the while gathering confidential information on the IDO program. First off, I have to say that a long delay for someone at that level is a bit odd. Most of the time, you’re out the door that afternoon or in a week or two if you have time to settle things. That’s because if you’re leaving involuntarily, they generally want you out of there, and if you’re leaving voluntarily, it’s because you generally have somewhere else to go. It’s also odd that no one at Incyte seems to have known that Fridman was heading out to work for a competitor, and the only conclusion that I can draw is that he must have been deliberately noncommittal about his future plans, because you’d think that he would have been asked that a few times over a three month period. Did Fridman already have the Flexus position lined up when he gave notice (but if not, why give notice at all?) If he did have the job, though, why wait three months? It’s strange.
At the same time, though, it’s not like people needed encouragement to work on IDO as a target. Plenty of other companies are (or have been in) that space, as this article on Flexus (from Xconomy) makes clear. What key piece of information would have made their data package compelling enough for Bristol-Myers Squibb to buy the company out, that wouldn’t have been available otherwise? I almost hope that this goes to open trial just so we can have a chance of finding out, but this is the sort of case that’s usually resolved before it gets that far.
Thanks to commenter ScientistSailor for putting me on to this story.