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Regulatory Review Holds Up Merck, Sanofi Venture

Drugmaker Merck & Co. said its planned venture with French counterpart Sanofi-Aventis SA has been delayed as regulators continue anti-trust reviews.

Drugmaker Merck & Co. said its planned venture with French counterpart Sanofi-Aventis SA to unite their animal health businesses has been delayed as regulators continue anti-trust reviews.

Merck, based in Whitehouse Station, N.J. ,and Sanofi said in recent regulatory filings they now expect the deal to close in the third quarter of this year. The companies had expected to close the deal in the first half of 2011.

Merck spokesman Steven Campanini said regulators are looking at how the companies address possible portfolio overlaps, to ensure competition among companies in the industry.

"We're working through those items now," he said.

Merck and Sanofi said last March they planned to combine their animal health businesses. The combination, called Merial-Intervet, is expected to be the world's largest maker of pet and livestock medicines, and leaders of both Merck and Sanofi said when they announced the deal that parts of their businesses may have to be divested after the regulatory review.

Merial sells two widely used pet medicines, flea-and-tick blocker Frontline and chewable heartworm preventer Heartgard. Intervet sells Panacur Plus, for preventing and controlling internal parasites including heartworm in dogs, and Plerion for treating roundworm and tapeworm infestations.

Merck had sold animal health products for more than six decades and had a large business -- a half-interest in Merial along with Sanofi-Aventis. Merck sold its half of Merial to Sanofi for $4 billion in 2009 to avoid a protracted overview by antitrust regulators that would hold up its Schering-Plough purchase.

That deal gave Sanofi-Aventis an option to later combine the full Merial business with Intervet, which Schering-Plough acquired in November 2007.

Shares of Merck rose 18 cents to $32.74 in morning trading Tuesday while U.S.-traded shares of Sanofi rose 46 cents to $35.04.
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