Universal Meditech Inc., the Chinese-run company at the center of the Reedley biologics lab scandal, has filed a claim with Fresno County seeking $50 million in damages for its loss of assets and research material that were destroyed.
Fresno County received the claim by mail last Friday from Thomas Business Law Group P.C., based out of southern California.
The backstory: Three years ago, Universal Meditech’s legal lab in Fresno was damaged by a fire. The company would later go bankrupt and be acquired by Prestige Biotech.
- As Prestige Biotech planned to move Universal Meditech’s operation to a new location by Fresno Yosemite International Airport, the company stored its equipment and assets in a warehouse in Reedley.
- Reedley code enforcement investigated the warehouse with the Fresno County Department of Public Health and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
- Investigators found the warehouse contained nearly 1,000 genetically engineered mice that were designed to carry COVID-19, according to an official with Prestige Biotech, as well as numerous infectious diseases, COVID-19 tests, and pregnancy tests.
The big picture: In the claim, Universal Meditech says the county destroyed over 30 freezers and refrigerators containing various biological assets, resulting in damages in excess of over $50 million.
- Universal Meditech says Reedley officials harassed the company almost immediately after its assets were moved to the warehouse in November 2022.
- The company claims that over 1,000 “precious purebred experimental mice” were wrongfully destroyed without any notice. While Universal Meditech says there were over 1,000 mice in the warehouse, Fresno County counted 951 mice, 178 of which were already dead.
- Universal Meditech also accuses Fresno County of lying about the warehouse containing numerous viruses that endangered public health, yet the county found infectious agents such as COVID-19, malaria and HIV present.
- In the claim, the company says it sent emails to the Fresno County Department of Public Health “many times” to inform the county of the value of the assets, as well as arguing that there were not any infectious agents that endangered the public. The company also argued that many of the biological assets are non-reproducible.
- Universal Meditech also said local media published “many false and distorted reports and information” about the warehouse, leading the company to be unable to move to its planned location in Fresno.
Breaking down the damages: Along with the dispute over the number of mice actually present in the warehouse, Universal Meditech went further in the claim saying that there should have been about 1,200 mice at the time. The company valued the mice at $72,000.
- The company also said purebred experimental mice that are “particularly resistant to tumor cells” are not available on the market, resulting in a loss of $600,000.
- Universal Meditech values the 3,000 monoclonal antibody frozen cell lines that is says were in the freezers at over $30 million, which it considers a conservative valuation.
- There were over 300 recombinant genetically engineered strains in the warehouse used in the production of immunodiagnostic antigens such as HIV, HCV, HBV, syphilis and Malaria, as well as genetic engineering pharmaceuticals. Universal Meditech valued those strains at over $10 million.
- The other multi-million dollar claims regarded 900,000 milligrams of monoclonal antibody ascites and purified antibodies, at over $9 million, and inclusion bodies expressed by recombinant genetically engineered bacteria and purified antigen, at over $10 million.
What they’re saying: “The County believes there is no merit to the claim,” Fresno County spokesperson Sonja Dosti told The Sun in an email. “The abatement by the County and City has been conducted according to court order and all applicable legal processes.”