An Oxford scientist stole a £50,000 vial of cancer therapy from a laboratory used to produce the AstraZeneca vaccine in a bid to treat his dying mother, a court heard.
Conor Quinn, who worked as a biotechnologist for Oxford BioMedica, took home a batch of the viral treatment on June 13, 2019.
The theft – which was spotted by a colleague – took place while Quinn, 32, was packaging the liquid into 500ml bottles.
He later destroyed the product after realising the cancer-treating drug would spoil unless stored at minus 80 degrees, Oxford Crown Court heard.
Laboratory cameras caught him stealing the batch despite knowing it would become useless within 48 hours unless frozen at the required temperature.
Quinn initially denied any wrongdoing but admitted the offence when questioned by police officers from Thames Valley Police.
He subsequently claimed he had no idea why he had stolen it.
It was understood Quinn believed the product, described as a "viral vector" in court, would be able to help cure his mother, an idea dismissed by a judge as "a bit of a leap".
Defence barrister Peter De Feu said that Quinn’s mother was in the "ghastly" final stage of terminal cancer which caused his client to have an "absolute meltdown".
"This defendant has been worried sick. The value of £50,000 has been placed on it but the cost to the company and the gain to him are both zero. One hopes that the company is significantly robust to deal with the effects of this," Mr De Feu said.
"For two years this has been hanging over his head. He lost his job, his reputation and he has lost his good character."
Quinn began his role at Oxford BioMedica in November 2015 and was rewarded with a promotion from biotechnologist to senior biotechnologist two-and-a-half years into the job.
His responsibilities included leading teams of operators in the manufacture of clinical-grade products and ensuring that process compliance was followed.
He left the company in July 2019, the month after the theft.
Sentencing, Judge Nigel Daly asked whether Quinn was "on the same planet as everybody else" and said he had "real concerns about the case".
"You might not have known the monetary value of the product that you took away, but you certainly knew its real value," he told the scientist. "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.
"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 [what] was happening to your mother.
"Nonetheless, it still doesn’t really explain this at all."
Judge Daly noted that he had since found another job – which is also in biotechnology – and had "shown a certain amount of remorse" after he was arrested and admitted his guilt.
"I accept there wasn’t a great deal of planning involved," he said. "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."
Quinn, who pleaded guilty to theft from an employer, was given a 12-month sentence, suspended for two years, and was ordered to pay £425 in costs in addition to undertaking 200 hours of unpaid work.
Oxford BioMedica declined to comment when approached by The Telegraph.
In September, the pharmaceutical company signed an 18-month agreement with AstraZeneca to manufacture the coronavirus vaccine at its Oxford-based laboratory.