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Europe OKs Novartis-Chiron Deal

Chiron's shareholders will still have to approve the takeover.

The European Commission on Monday approved



$5.1 billion offer to buy the shares of



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that the Swiss drug giant doesn't already own.

The proposed purchase of 56% of Chiron's shares already has been cleared by the Federal Trade Commission, leaving approval by Chiron's shareholders as the last step in completing the deal. Chiron hasn't set a shareholder vote yet because its merger proxy must be approved by the

Securities and Exchange Commission

. Chiron, Emeryville, Calif., recently said it might hold the vote in March.

The acquisition must be approved by a majority of Chiron shares not held by Novartis. Four investment firms holding 17.5% of Chiron's shares -- and about 30% of the shares eligible to vote --

oppose the Novartis bid, saying it's too low. Novartis has offered $45 a share.

Shares of Chiron were off 6 cents to $45.60, and shares of Novartis declined 97 cents, or 1.7%, to $54.78.