Merck ( MRK) said Thursday that a European Union regulatory agency issued a favorable opinion for its diabetes drug Januvia.

The next step is a formal vote by the European Commission, whose endorsement would give Merck the lead in Europe over Novartis ( NVS) and its experimental drug called Galvus.

Merck said Januvia could get EU marketing approval by April. Novartis submitted its Galvus application in August. Merck already leads Novartis in the U.S. because the Food and Drug Administration approved Januvia in October.

An FDA decision on the Swiss drugmaker's application was delayed in November after the agency said it needed three more months to analyze extra data.

Januvia and Galvus belong to a new class of drugs called DPP-4 inhibitors, which try to control diabetics' blood sugar levels in two different ways. The drugs are designed for patients with Type 2 diabetes. In patients with the condition, their bodies can't produce enough insulin or their cells don't effectively process insulin.

Merck also expects to hear from the FDA in March on its application for Janumet, which combines Januvia and metformin, a generic drug that controls blood sugar.

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