In 2016, Novartis continued to strengthen its business, accelerate innovation and further sharpen its organizational structure. These steps are primarily designed to enhance our scientific and operating capabilities. They are also intended to help us address the medical and economic challenges of a rapidly aging global population, as well as improve our ability to develop important healthcare solutions and make them available to as many patients as possible around the world. We are confident that our strategy of using science-based innovation to deliver better health outcomes for patients will reinforce our market position and increase sales, profits and shareholder value in the long term.
Last year Novartis confronted several pressing issues, including the loss of US patent protection for our cancer therapy Gleevec, returning our eye care division to growth, and accelerating the uptake of our heart failure medicine Entresto. We were able to maintain our sales momentum despite these challenges, although we saw a decline in operating income.
Novartis continued to strengthen its business, accelerate innovation and further sharpen its organizational structure.
Guided by a strong executive team with five new leaders, we launched new products, stepped up cross-divisional collaboration, and paved the way for future efficiency gains following the global integration of our technical and service functions.
As part of our efforts to accelerate collaboration across our organization, we are strengthening the connection between the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research and our newly formed Global Drug Development unit. These efforts are intended to expedite the transition of experimental therapies from our labs in Cambridge, Basel and Shanghai to the clinical setting, and broaden our industry-leading pipeline. Last year we received five breakthrough therapy designations from the US Food and Drug Administration in inflammatory diseases and oncology, including our investigational cancer compound LEE011 (ribociclib).
To stay at the forefront of medical science, we are also expanding our partnerships with leading academic and private research institutes, with the aim of advancing developments in emerging frontiers such as gene editing and immuno-oncology. Partnerships are also vital for our activities in digital health, where we are working to improve evidence-based information about our products and to continue exploring pay-for-performance pricing models.
Improving access to healthcare in developing countries is a priority for us, and we are playing our part in helping to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. We focus on our longstanding work in the area of tropical diseases, where we advanced the development of our investigational malaria treatment KAF156. We have also made encouraging progress with our recently launched Novartis Access portfolio, which aims to help combat the rise of noncommunicable diseases in lower-income countries.
We constantly evolve our corporate governance in an open dialogue with our stakeholders. In consultation with them, the Board of Directors has worked to further refine the compensation system and compliance framework of Novartis to position our company as a trusted global healthcare leader and strengthen our market position in 2017.
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 2.75 at the next Annual General Meeting.
Joerg Reinhardt Chairman of the Board of Directors