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Pfizer acquisition may be delayed

European antitrust regulators have suspended their review of Pfizer's proposed $60-billion acquisition of Pharmacia, possibly delaying completion of the deal until early next year.

"We have sent the companies a request for more information," Amelia Torres, the European Commission's spokeswoman on competition matters, said on Wednesday. As a result, the commission's Nov. 29 deadline to approve the deal or begin a full investigation will be pushed back. "The sooner the companies comply, the sooner a new deadline can be set," she said.

The two companies said on Wednesday that they still expected to complete their merger. Pfizer agreed to acquire Pharmacia in July for $60-billion _ the biggest deal so far this year and one that would cement's Pfizer's position as the dominant drug maker in the world. With Pharmacia, Pfizer's share of worldwide sales of prescription drugs would climb to about 11 percent from 8 percent.

Few regulatory obstacles to the deal have been seen because the drug industry remains fairly fragmented. But the number of deals between drugmakers in recent years makes it likely that European regulators will choose to conduct a full inquiry, which can last as long as five months.

Iain Clark, an analyst with the consulting firm of Wood Mackenzie, said there were only minor areas where the two companies' medicines competed. Pharmacia's antidepressant Edronax overlaps with Pfizer's Zoloft, for example.

"There won't be any deal-breakers," he told the Reuters news service.

European antitrust regulators typically "stop the clock" on their reviews in complicated cases, or in situations where events since the notification have an impact on the deal. Two years ago, the commission delayed its review of the merger of Swedish truck makers Volvo and Scania. Last year it did the same while assessing the merger of two French electrical goods makers. Both deals were ultimately blocked.

Torres declined to comment on what information European regulators lacked. She described the request as "normal procedure," emphasizing that it did not mean that the companies were deliberately withholding information.

In 2000 the European Commission approved the creation of GlaxoSmithkline, then the world's biggest drug company, with 7.3 percent of global sales, but only after an in-depth investigation and the imposition of conditions.

Shares of Pfizer edged up 9 cents on Wednesday, to $33.09, while Pharmacia shares rose 11 cents to $44.69.