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Firm says oral cancer test was derailed

TRENTON, N.J., July 8 (UPI) -- Corporate giant Johnson & Johnson suppressed sales of an oral cancer test to protect the image of best-seller Listerine, court papers filed in New Jersey say.

The company ordered its subsidiary OralPharma Inc., to market the cancer test only to dentists least likely to buy it following discovery of a 2008 report from Australia that linked Listerine to oral cancer, court papers say.

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Oral Cancer Prevention International, which developed what it says is an early-detection oral cancer test, entered into an agreement with OralPharma to market its test. Johnson & Johnson, in the same time period, was developing the alcohol-free Listerine Zero, but not saying why.

The real reason for developing Listerine Zero, OCPI says, was to circumvent the controversy that would have ensued with a $1 billion per year product being linked to oral cancer.

OCPI is seeking more than $210 million in damages and says the scheme directly interfered with early detection that, with sales projections in hand, would have found 7,300 "otherwise preventable" cases of oral cancer in stages early enough to treat.

"Oral cancer kills approximately as many people in the United States as skin cancer [melanoma], twice as many as cervical cancer and is rapidly rising among women, young people and non-smokers," OCPI said in a statement.

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