Recently, a heart failure patient named John wrote me a letter. He wanted to thank our company for making him feel like he had a new lease on life at the age of 54. He explained how quickly his diagnosis turned his life upside down, but he now hopes to be around for a long time thanks to Novartis.
Stories like John’s remind us of our mission, which is to discover new ways to improve and extend people’s lives. Last year our products touched nearly a billion people globally. This is incredible reach. But when you think that there are 6 billion people who haven’t had the benefit of a Novartis product, there’s still huge opportunity to touch the lives of many more people.
This is why I am excited about the future of our company. Our focus on innovation will be especially important as the world’s population grows and ages, driving an increase in chronic illnesses like heart disease and cancer. This is where Novartis can have even greater impact, as we strive to use the power of science to address tough healthcare challenges.
However, the same factors that are driving increased demand for healthcare are also putting unprecedented pressure on healthcare systems around the world. The result is greater focus on cost control and increasing pressure on prices.
In an effort to build Novartis into a company that can thrive no matter what the future holds, we made significant changes in 2016 to create a more sustainable company. We are working to ensure we have the global scale and innovation power needed to remain competitive in a changing world.
In an effort to build Novartis into a company that can thrive no matter what the future holds, we made significant changes in 2016 to create a more sustainable company.
Last year we reshaped Novartis from a group of loosely affiliated divisions into an integrated company, consolidating several functions. We created a Global Drug Development organization to better share expertise, ensure optimal resource allocation, and leverage new technology platforms across divisions. At the same time, we created a single drug manufacturing organization that can better optimize production capacity and utilization, while taking steps to lower our costs.
We also sharpened the focus of our business units. For example, within our Innovative Medicines Division, the Novartis Oncology business unit, with its unique customer base, now reports directly to me, given its growing importance. We also consolidated all of our eye care drugs into the Novartis Pharmaceuticals business unit, and focused Alcon solely on surgical and vision care. In addition, we shifted some mature products from Novartis Pharmaceuticals to Sandoz, where they can benefit from our generics division’s expertise.
We continue to work hard to create the right culture in our company. The revised Novartis Values and Behaviors, introduced in 2015, are the foundation for our performance management and succession planning.
In the midst of these organizational changes, I’m proud that our teams delivered solid performance in 2016. Sales of USD 48.5 billion were in line with a year ago in constant currencies (cc) – a significant achievement given the loss of US patent protection for Gleevec. Products launched recently helped fill the gap. They included Cosentyx, a treatment for psoriasis and other autoimmune disorders, which became a billion-dollar product; and Gilenya, our oral therapy for multiple sclerosis, which continued double-digit growth. Our heart failure medication Entresto continued to grow steadily, with approvals in more than 70 countries to date and solid progress with reimbursement around the world. We also saw strong performance for oncology products Tafinlar + Mekinist, a combination therapy for advanced melanoma, and Jakavi, for blood cancers.
One area where we fell short in 2016 was Alcon. We started the year with the ambition of returning the business to growth. While we were successful in returning the Vision Care segment to growth in the second half, the Surgical business is taking longer than expected and is preventing a positive growth rate for the overall Alcon Division. We will continue to diligently execute the growth plan in 2017. Our core operating income of USD 13.0 billion declined 2% (cc), as we expected, reflecting generic competition and growth investments, partially offset by productivity initiatives.
We made further progress on expanding access to healthcare. In its first full year of operation, our Novartis Access program launched in three lower-income countries, while laying the foundation for expansion to about 30 countries in a few years. Our efforts were reflected in the latest Access to Medicine Index, where we moved up one place to No. 3.
As we look ahead, we are excited about the future. We look forward to delivering further innovation that could change the practice of medicine for patients around the world.
We expect 2017 to be another challenging year as we continue to work through the Gleevec patent expiration in Europe. But we also feel confident that we are positioned for a new phase of growth beginning in 2018.
I’d like to thank our employees for their dedication and you, our shareholders, for your continued confidence in the future of our company.