Johnson & Johnson has launched a legal broadside against Boston Scientific and Abbott Laboratories after losing out in a bidding war to acquire medical device maker Guidant in January.

The suit, claiming $5.5 billion in damages, accuses the two companies of inducing Guidant to breach its $24.2 billion merger agreement with J&J and instead take up a $27.2 billion offer tabled by Boston Scientific. Abbott contributed to Boston Scientific’s bid by agreeing to buy Guidant’s stent and vascular business for about $5 billion, a moved which allowed the transaction to bypass antitrust issues.

Another allegation is that Guidant leaked confidential information to help Abbott contribute to the financing of the deal. Guidant paid J&J a $705 million break-up fee on the termination of the agreement.

The lawsuit, which was filed on Monday in US District Court in New York, is also seeking reimbursement for court costs, attorney fees and interest.

Both Boston Scientific and Abbott said the lawsuit was without merit. The former also questioned why it had taken so long for J&J to start proceedings, given that J&J ducked out of the running in January and the merger closed in April.

The lawsuit comes after a difficult period for Boston Scientific, which is facing hundreds of product liability lawsuits involving defibrillators recalled by Guidant, manufacturing problems, state and federal investigations into the recall and pressure on its flagship drug-eluting stent Taxus (paclitaxel).

- Meanwhile, J&J’s Cordis unit officially announced the launch yesterday of its third-generation drug-eluting stent – Cypher Select Plus (sirolimus) – that can be inserted into hard-to-reach blood vessels that would be unsuitable targets for the first two products in the range, Cypher and Cypher Select. The new addition received the CE mark in June 2006 and is now available in many markets outside the USA, said Cordis.