Novartis' chief executive says the Swiss major could spend up to $3 billion on acquisitions to boost its consumer health, generics, biotech, veterinary and diagnostics businesses.

Speaking to Bloomberg, Joe Jimenez said there are a dearth of available assets, but "we do expect to make bolt-on acquisitions to these five platforms, and we could do that today”. He added that bolt-on for Novartis means "anything from $1 billion to $3 billion”.

Novartis is still in the process of integrating its last major purchase, the eyecare specialist Alcon, and Mr Jimenez stressed that acquisitions are not essential because the company’s businesses are among the fastest-growing in the industry.

However, he went on to say that the company “would take a very hard look” at any consumer health brands to come on the market - GlaxoSmithKline is selling £500 million worth of over-the-counter products, including the controversial weight loss drug Alli (orlistat). Analysts believe that Novartis could also benefit from any possible divestments by Pfizer, notably in animal health and OTCs.

Novartis’s generics unit Sandoz unit would be interested in additional acquisitions in the “sweet spot” of difficult-to-manufacture treatments such as injectable cancer drugs or inhalable respiratory products, Mr Jimenez told the news agency, adding that biotechnology companies and diagnostics businesses could also be attractive.

He declined to comment on rumours of a possible bid for US diagnostics group Gen-Probe, which has a market capitalisation of around $4.0 billion.