SAN DIEGO, Calif. – A federal court said Monday it would issue a decision July 3 on whether a Japanese woman and a Chinese man should be charged with stealing genetic materials and information from a Harvard Medical School lab.
Kayoko Kimbara, 32, and Zhu Jiangyu, 30, agreed with the offer of the federal court in San Diego during a preliminary hearing Monday to hold another hearing beginning at 9 a.m. July 3 on whether evidence is sufficient to bring the two researchers to trial after prosecution by a grand jury.
A U.S. attorney told Kyodo News there is a possibility of plea bargaining.
The court will also decide July 3 on whether to release the two on bail and on procedures to transfer the case to a federal court in Boston, where it was originally filed.
The two San Diego residents have been in custody since their arrests.
Meanwhile, the biomedical research center where Kimbara works — the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif. — said Monday that Kinbara has been suspended from her duties at the center over her alleged role in the economic espionage case.
The U.S. Justice Department said the two, who were postdoctoral fellows at Harvard, were charged with conspiracy, theft of trade secrets and interstate transportation of stolen property, and with trying to profit by collaborating with a Japanese company.
Kimbara was employed from October 1998 through December 1999 in Harvard Medical School’s cell biology department.
The charges arise out of the alleged theft of Harvard Medical School trade secrets that are used to develop drugs to control organ rejection and to study genes that regulate calcineurin, an important signal enzyme in the heart, brain and immune systems, according to the department.
They are also accused of transporting those secrets from Boston to San Antonio, Texas, where they worked after quitting their jobs at Harvard, it said.
According to court documents, Kimbara and Zhu, who worked under the direction of a professor at the cell biology department, in early 1999 began to work in the lab from about 11 p.m. to 9 a.m. to further their research and to keep information from him.
They had signed participation agreements upon coming to Harvard, which meant they agreed that all rights to any discovery or invention would belong to the university, even after termination of their Harvard employment.
Kimbara and Zhu are charged with conspiring to take the proprietary and marketable scientific information with them when they left for their new jobs at the University of Texas in January 2000.
According to the documents, Zhu sent an e-mail to the Japanese company prior to leaving Harvard and stated his intention of working with another researcher to commercialize the antibodies obtained through research conducted in the lab.
Zhu allegedly sent three new genes to Japan so that the company could make antibodies against them. This was done without the knowledge or authorization of Harvard officials, the department said.
The company, whose name was withheld, was able to produce antibodies against two of the genes and shipped them to Zhu at the University of Texas between February and May 2000, it said.
Prior to leaving Boston, the two allegedly shipped at least 20 cartons from the Harvard professor’s lab during winter break and took more than 30 boxes of books and biological documentation without authorization.
In early January, other personnel reported that biological materials, equipment and documentation were missing from the lab.
According to the Justice Department, materials taken from the Harvard lab were later recovered in June 2000 from Kimbara’s and Zhu’s work areas at the University of Texas.
Kimbara finished postgraduate studies at the University of Tokyo in 1998 before beginning her work at Harvard University.
If convicted, Zhu and Kimbara would face a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison and fines of up to $750,000. They also face extradition in Massachusetts.
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