Novartis made substantial progress in 2017. We returned Alcon to growth, launched important new products, and benefited from efficiency gains delivered by Novartis Business Services and the recently established global drug development and production organizations. These accomplishments have helped us to deliver solid performance. We increased sales by 2% in constant currencies, improved net income by 12% in constant currencies, and were able to strengthen our cash flow and core earnings per share with the objective of continuing to create value for our shareholders.
With the appointment of Vasant Narasimhan as Chief Executive Officer starting February 1, the Board of Directors is confident Novartis is well placed to begin a new phase of growth and strengthen its global market position
We believe innovation will become increasingly important in view of the persistent challenges in the healthcare environment. To remain at the forefront of innovation, we have continued to strengthen our leadership. We have also enhanced our ability to develop breakthrough therapies by accelerating internal and external collaboration, pursuing bolt-on acquisitions and digitizing our operations. The creation of the Chief Digital Officer position is set to add further impetus to the transformation of Novartis.
With the appointment of Vasant Narasimhan as Chief Executive Officer starting February 1, the Board of Directors is confident Novartis is well placed to begin a new phase of growth and strengthen its global market position. As we move forward, our leadership team is focused on driving innovation and is cultivating a company culture aimed at helping us become one of the most trusted partners in the healthcare industry. On behalf of the Board of Directors, I would also like to express my gratitude to our outgoing CEO, Joseph Jimenez, who has successfully led Novartis for eight years through a challenging period of major patent expirations and laid the foundation for a strong future.
We will continue to make substantial investments in research and development and to concentrate on exploring new therapeutic pathways that help improve and extend people’s lives. We are currently investigating more than 70 new molecules in areas of high unmet medical need such as cancer, respiratory disease and heart disease.
We are prepared to take calculated risks across the research portfolio and work toward translating scientific advances in fields such as genetics and immunology into pharmaceutical products. As part of these efforts, we launched three cancer therapies in 2017: Kisqali, Rydapt and Kymriah. Kymriah, developed with the University of Pennsylvania in the US, is the first approved chimeric antigen receptor T-cell (CAR-T) therapy, an innovative cell therapy that is available in the US on an industrial scale and takes personalized medicine to a new level.
Reflecting our ambition to deliver our treatments to as many patients as possible, we are also accelerating our activities to improve access to healthcare in developing countries. As part of these efforts, we expanded the reach of our Novartis Access program, which aims to help address the rise in chronic diseases in lower-income countries in Africa, Asia and South America.
We constantly seek ways to improve our corporate governance, strengthen our commitment to integrity and ethical behavior, and continue cultivating an open and transparent dialogue with our many stakeholders. We pursue engagement with patient groups, customers, shareholders and society as a whole. We are convinced that this exchange benefits our company in the long term and can also contribute to strengthening healthcare systems.
I thank you for the confidence you have placed in our company and am pleased to be able to propose a dividend increase of 2% to CHF 2.80 at the next Annual General Meeting.
Joerg Reinhardt Chairman of the Board of Directors