Novartis made strong progress in 2015. We completed a major portfolio transformation, reinforced our lead in innovation, and delivered solid financial performance. I’m convinced we have a strong foundation for growth in a world where the population is aging and healthcare systems need to deliver quality care more cost-effectively.
Sales grew 5% in constant currencies (cc) to USD 49.4 billion, in our continuing operations. Core operating income, which excludes certain exceptional items, rose 10% (cc) to USD 13.8 billion. Our core margin improved 1.3 percentage points (cc) to 27.9%. Results were driven by strong performance in our Pharmaceuticals and Sandoz Divisions, which helped offset disappointing performance in our Alcon Division.
Sales of our growth products rose 17% and accounted for 34% of net sales, underscoring our continued success in renewing our product portfolio and offsetting the impact of patent expirations. In emerging markets, sales growth slowed to 7% in 2015, as some economies cooled. But we believe the slowdown is temporary and we remain focused on the long-term potential for these markets.
We finalized a portfolio transformation that has improved our competitive position. Novartis is now a more focused company with leading positions in innovative pharmaceuticals, generics and eye care. As a company we have the innovation power and global scale necessary to compete effectively in a changing world.
Novartis Business Services (NBS), our new cross-divisional services organization, ramped up in 2015 and played a critical role in identifying additional synergies across our businesses that are yielding important productivity gains. These gains produced overall savings of USD 3.2 billion last year, with the biggest savings of USD 1.7 billion coming from procurement efforts.
NBS now has about 9 500 employees worldwide, with five global service centers scaling up. I expect NBS to continue driving productivity gains and cost savings across Novartis.
We made further strides in areas that we hope reinforce the trust that our customers and society place in us. Although we know there is more work to do, we continued to make excellent progress on quality, with 98% of 192 regulatory inspections worldwide in 2015 yielding good or acceptable findings. We are taking steps to reinforce our culture of integrity by, for instance, modifying incentives for sales forces and changing some promotional practices.
As we focus on improving health outcomes for patients by leveraging medical science, we are also advancing the creative use of new digital technology and data analysis to help healthcare systems deliver real-world outcomes with our therapies. This will enable us to improve value and reduce waste in the system. In this time of increased scrutiny on drug prices, we understand that patients and healthcare systems need to get good value for what they spend on treatments.
In 2016 we plan to take further steps to improve our effectiveness and efficiency as an organization, supporting future growth and innovation. We have a solid plan to return Alcon to growth by focusing the business, strengthening its foundation and investing for growth. At the Group level we plan to centralize our manufacturing across divisions and create more shared services to lower our cost base. And we are integrating some of our drug development functions to enhance innovation even further, while increasing efficiency.
I’d like to thank Novartis associates for continuing to deliver strong results during a period of significant changes in our company. I also extend thanks to our shareholders for their continued support.