Top scientist stole £50k cancer therapy drug from lab ‘for no apparent reason’

A scientist stole a bottle of cancer therapy product worth £50,000 from the same lab that developed the Oxford AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine.

Conor Quinn stole the small bottle of liquid from Oxford BioMedica in June 2019.

The substance was left over from a larger batch and would have been destroyed, Oxford Crown Court heard.

Quinn committed the theft over a year before Oxford BioMedica signed an 18-month agreement to manufacture the Covid-19 vaccine.

The court heard that the defendant's mother was seriously ill with cancer when he stole the product, but she had a different form of the disease to the one that the substance would treat.

It was said that he was suffering from depression and that he may have taken the bottle as "a sort of keepsake".

Imposing a 12-month prison term suspended for two years, Judge Nigel Daly asked Peter du Feu, Quinn's barrister: "Is he on the same planet as everybody else?

"I have got real concerns about this case and particularly I don't understand what on earth he thought he was doing."

Judge Daly told the defendant, who kept his head bowed as he stood in the dock: "Mr Quinn, I first looked at this case last night and I looked at the witness statements and I looked through the disciplinary proceedings.

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"And the reason I looked through all that was to try and figure out what on earth you thought you were doing and I still don't know."

The judge discussed comments from an Oxford BioMedica employee, who said a lot of the company's work was highly confidential and it would be "hugely damaging" if its products were lost or sold.

He also read out a passage in the probation service's pre-sentence report in which Quinn noted a curfew "would impact on his ability to play hockey on Thursday evenings and weekends".

Quinn was remorseful, of no previous convictions, had a partner and had found other employment, the court heard.

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The offence had been hanging over his head for the past two years and it had been a "terrible time" for him and his partner.

Prosecutor Christopher Pembridge said the defendant, a biotechnologist, was working on a product for cancer patients at Oxford BioMedica's Yarnton lab.

On June 13, 2019, he was packaging the liquid into 500ml bottles when he was seen by a colleague taking a bottle away with him that contained waste liquid.

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The liquid in the unmarked bottle he stole would have been destroyed as part of the bottling process and would have quickly spoiled if not stored at very low temperatures.

He initially denied stealing the bottle when challenged by his employers, but the company took the matter to Thames Valley Police.

Quinn, of Quakers Court, Abingdon, pleaded guilty at the magistrates' court to theft from an employer.

Judge Daly ordered he do 200 hours of unpaid work as part of his 12-month suspended prison sentence and pay £425 in prosecution costs.

"I will not make a compensation order. It would be impossible to assess the appropriate amount of such an order," he said.

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Sentencing the scientist, the judge said: "You were involved in a very technological process in which you had some pride.

"You might not have known the monetary value of the product that you took away, but you certainly knew its real value and in my judgment you must have known if you'd sat and thought about it what effect this would have on public confidence in that company and commercial confidence in that company.

"If you'd thought about it, that would have been pretty obvious.

"You clearly did not think about it and it would seem at the time from what I have read about you, you were going through a very difficult time because of that which was happening to your mother. Nonetheless, it still doesn't really explain this at all.

"I have to consider the sort of categories this falls into. You were not in a managerial capacity. Nonetheless, I take the view that there was a high degree of trust in you.

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"You're not a person that was employed in a particular status – as a cleaner or anything like that.

"You are a very intelligent man, well-qualified, doing a very responsible job and there was an awful lot of trust placed in you and for one reason or another you breached that trust.

"I accept there wasn't a great deal of planning involved. It seems that you just decided to take this viral vector or what was left of it and walk out with it for no apparent reason and then when a comparatively short time, knowing it would effectively become useless within 48 hours, you destroyed it."

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