Novartis sales were up 2% in the fourth quarter but the Swiss major has warned that turnover will take a hit soon from the  launch of a generic version of its big-selling blood pressure lowerer Diovan in the USA.

Core net profit fell 3% to $2.05 billion,  hit by the strength of the Swiss franc, while sales came in at $15.08 billion, Diovan (valsartan) was down 15% to $843 million, due to generic competition in Europe. No competitor has yet reached the US market but Novartis expects rivals to be launched in the second quarter.

Turnover from Glivec/Gleevec (imatinib), for chronic myeloid leukaemia and gastrointestinal stromal tumours was up 4% to $1.23 billion, while the successor to Gleevec, Tasigna (nilotinib), also approved for CML, contributed $352 million, a rise of 21%.

Sales of Lucentis (ranibizumab) for the treatment of age-related macular degeneration dipped 1% to $630 million, while kidney cancer drug Afinitor (everolimus) soared 32% to $361 million, Turnover from the diabetes drug Galvus (vildagliptin) climbed 29% to $328 million, while the oral multiple sclerosis drug Gilenya brought in $527 million, up 51%.

Chief executive Joe Jimenez (pictured) said Novartis "maintained good momentum in innovation,with 18 approvals and three US Food and Drug Administration breakthrough therapy designations". He added that "our growth products continued to expand, rejuvenating our portfolio and reinforcing our growth prospects".

The company is currently looking at ways to refocus the company and recently agreed to sell its  blood transfusion diagnostics unit to Spain's Grifols for $1.68 billion. A review is being carried out,  led by chairman Joerg Reinhardt, and although no details have been given, Mr Jimenez said on a conference call that "we are considering all options, including unique structures".

He went on to say that Novartis' over-the-counter, animal health and vaccines businesses are "good and growing, but the firm is looking at ways to make them global leaders.