By TERRY COLLINS Associated Press Writer SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - A California jury has ordered drugmaker Pfizer Inc. to pay $38 million to a leading Bay Area medical research nonprofit for stealing trade secrets to develop a pain relief drug. A Santa Clara County Superior Court jury reached the verdict Monday in a 2004 lawsuit filed against Pfizer by the San Bruno-based nonprofit Ischemia Research and Education Foundation. The lawsuit said Pfizer in 2002 wanted to use the foundation's database for clinical trials on Bextra, a drug to treat acute pain chiefly caused by arthritis. The drug was eventually taken off the market over concerns it posed a heart risk. After the New York-based drugmaker and the foundation could not agree on terms for use of the database, the lawsuit alleged Pfizer arranged a side deal with Ping Hsu, a lead statistician at the foundation. Hsu provided the data without approval, according to the suit. Pfizer said it plans to appeal. "The company stands by the belief that its conduct was proper," Pfizer said in a written statement Tuesday. "Pfizer continues to believe that it was unjustly caught in a crossfire between (the foundation) and one of its former employees." Pfizer's global research and development headquarters are in Connecticut in Groton and New London. Hsu's lawyer did not immediately return calls seeking comment. The San Jose Mercury News reported the lawsuit also claims that Pfizer and Hsu destroyed evidence when confronted about the data theft. "They hired Hsu on the pretext of his expertise, but it was all bull," Geragos said. "They just wanted access to (the foundation's) database. That database is like the Holy Grail." Geragos said Pfizer and Hsu could also face punitive damages that could increase the verdict to more than $120 million. Attorneys in the case are expected to appear for post-trial motions Jan. 16 before Judge Gregory Ward, who will decide whether to assess more damages. The foundation's head, Dr. Dennis Mangano, said Monday that spending $15 million in legal fees instead of accepting a financial settlement was worth it. "It's very risky going against a big company like Pfizer," Mangano said. "The right thing has been done."