Novartis could sell Alcon eyecare business

Novartis could sell its struggling Alcon eyecare business, according to press reports.

Bought in 2010 from Swiss food maker Nestle for $52 billion, Reuters reported that Novartis is shifting its attention away from Alcon and towards prescription drugs, such as cancer medicines and its Sandoz generics business.

Citing an interview with the Swiss weekly newspaper, SonntagsZeitung, Reuters reported that chairman Joerg Reinhardt said that “all options are open in the future.”

“In the long run, the question arises as to whether we are the best owner for Alcon,” he added.

Matters are not helped by Alcon’s poor financial performance, which has shrinking sales and made an operating loss for the first nine months of this year.

Novartis has also moved Alcon’s eyecare drugs over into its pharmaceuticals division, further contributing to the falling sales, Reuters noted.

According to Reuters, Novartis no longer sees itself as a healthcare company like Johnson & Johnson, which has a range of other health products as well as a pharmaceuticals business.

Former chief executive Daniel Vasella was keen on this business model, while his successor Joe Jimenez, who took over in 2010, appears keen to focus on pharmaceuticals.

This shift in focus was demonstrated by the multi-billion asset swap with GlaxoSmithKline and Eli Lilly, where GSK took over Novartis’ vaccines business and took control of a joint venture with over-the-counter drugs.

Lilly took Novartis’ animal health business, while the Swiss firm gained a portfolio of cancer drugs from GSK.

According to other reports, Novartis is in talks to buy privately-owned US generics maker Amneal, although Novartis declined to comment, calling the report “rumours and speculation”. Reuters noted that such an acquisition would fit with its new business focus.

Novartis may also sell a stake in Roche, which it amassed under Vasella’s leadership as part of a now-abandoned plan to unite the two companies.

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