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J&J sued over sales deal for oral cancer product

(Reuters) - J&J was sued by a company called Oral Cancer Prevention International that claimed the drug major "interfered" with a sales agreement related to the distribution of an oral cancer prevention product to protect sales of its popular mouthwash, Listerine, according to court documents.

The complaint accuses J&J on three counts: fraud, tortuous interference with contract and civil conspiracy. It seeks at least $60 million in damages and at least $10 million in punitive damages on each of the three counts.

The lawsuit is regarding a contract Oral Cancer Prevention signed in February 2010 with J&J's former unit, OraPharma Inc, under which OraPharma exclusively distributed OCPI's Oral CDx Brush Test, which identifies precancerous cells in the mouth.

The complaint said J&J was concerned about a study published in Australia that linked mouthwashes with a high alcohol content to cancer, adding that J&J did not want to "lend credence to the link between Listerine and oral cancer" by selling both its mouthwash and OralCDx.

"Johnson & Johnson induced OraPharma to breach the sales agreement to suppress sales of and withhold from the public a proven life-saving oral cancer prevention product," the complaint filed on July 6 said.

The suit was filed in federal court in Trenton, New Jersey.

"The company is confident that we have engaged in proper business practices and we look forward to the opportunity to resolve this matter through the legal system," J&J spokesman Bill Price told Reuters.

OraPharma could not be reached immediately for comment.

The case is Oral Cancer Prevention International v. Johnson & Johnson and Johnson & Johnson Consumer Cos, 11-cv-03878, U.S. District Court, District of New Jersey (Trenton).

(Reporting by Mihir Dalal in Bangalore; editing by Carol Bishopric)

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