Novartis has announced plans to spin off its eye-care unit Alcon into a standalone entity.

The Swiss drug giant said it is seeking shareholder approval for the move, after a strategic review concluded spinning off the business would be consistent with Novartis’ strategy of focusing as a medicines company.

The Alcon ophthalmology pharmaceuticals portfolio – which made 2017 sales of $4.6 billion and includes the potential blockbuster RTH258 (brolucizumab) for neovascular AMD and diabetic macular edema - will remain in house.

Assuming shareholder approval, the transaction, which is expected to be tax neutral, is expected to complete in the first half of next year.

"Our strategic review examined all options for Alcon ranging from retention, sale, IPO to spinoff. The review concluded that a spinoff would be in the best interests of Novartis shareholders,” said Novartis’ chairman Joerg Reinhardt.

“This transaction would allow our shareholders to benefit from potential future successes of a more focused Novartis and a standalone Alcon, which would become a publicly traded global medtech leader based here in Switzerland."

Mike Ball will become chairman-designate of Alcon, effective July 1, 2018, reporting to Vas Narasimhan, Novartis’ chief executive, as he prepares the division for the separation.