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GlaxoSmithKline leads European shares higher

* FTSEurofirst 300 up 0.3 percent

* GlaxoSmithKline up on key drug backing

* For up-to-the-minute market news, click on [STXNEWS/EU]

LONDON, Nov 17 (Reuters) - European shares edged higher early on Wednesday, as investors awaited a resolution to Ireland’s debt crisis, and with GlaxoSmithKline up on backing for a key drug.

At 0946 GMT, the FTSEurofirst 300 .FTEU3 index of top European shares was up 0.3 percent at 1,089.53 points, having fallen 2.3 percent in the previous session, the biggest one-day percentage drop since July 1.

The European benchmark is up more than 68 percent from its lifetime low of March 2009, on strong company earnings, and stimulus from governments and central banks worldwide. Euro zone ministers have agreed to send a joint European-IMF mission to Ireland that could prepare the way for a bailout to prevent its debt crisis spreading to other countries. [ID:nLDE6AG004]

“People are still sitting on healthy profits. I wouldn’t be surprised if some people pull out as they can’t see what happens next,” said Justin Urquhart Stewart, director at Seven Investment Management.

“What Ireland needs to do is to create enough confidence to get itself off the front page. They have to create stability, even if they don’t do anything yet.”

The STOXX 600 Europe Healthcare Index .SXDP, up 1 percent, was among the strongest performers.

GlaxoSmithKline GSK.L shares gained 2.3 percent following backing from a U.S. advisory panel for its lupus drug Benlysta, which is seen as a potential blockbuster.

Biotech group Actelion ATLN.VX rose 7.9 percent after reports U.S. company Amgen AMGN.O is studying an offer for the Swiss group. [ID:nLDE6AG0HH]

Roche ROG.VX rose 1.7 percent after the Swiss pharma group sets out plans to slash costs as it grapples with recent product setbacks and mounting pressure on prices.

Across Europe, Britain's FTSE 100 .FTSE was flat; Germany's DAX .GDAXI and France's CAC40 .FCHI both rose 0.4 percent.

The Thomson Reuters Peripheral Eurozone Countries Index .TRXFLDPIPU was up 0.6 percent.

EXPERIAN GAINS

British credit information group Experian EXPN.L rose 3.4 percent after hiking its interim dividend and saying it continued to look at ways of returning cash to shareholders after a stronger than expected first half. [ID:nLDE6AG098]

British utility Centrica CNA.L fell 2 percent, though the company said it performed well in the third quarter, driven by growth at its business energy and UK upstream units. Investors took profits, with the shares having risen 37 percent in the past year.

Bank of England policymakers were split three ways for a second month running in November, with one member wanting more stimulus, another voting for a rate hike and the majority freezing policy and ready to act in either direction, the minutes from the Nov. 3-4 Monetary Policy Committee meetings showed on Wednesday.

This is likely to reinforce expectations that policy will remain on hold well into next year until the outlook for the economy becomes clearer.

The number of Britons claiming unemployment benefit fell unexpectedly last month and a wider measure of unemployment also fell in the three months to September, official data showed on Wednesday. [ID:nAHLGME69T] (Editing by Hans Peters)

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