* Novartis CEO says no need for “big deal”
* Company could unload assets worth $50 bln
* Expects Trump proposals on drug prices in 3 months (Recasts to focus on M&A)
By John Miller
ZURICH, May 31 (Reuters) - Novartis does not need a big acquisition to kick-start growth, Chief Executive Joe Jimenez told investors on Wednesday, playing down suggestions he could use proceeds from a slew of asset sales for a significant takeover.
The Swiss drugmaker is reviewing potential disposals of its struggling eyecare business Alcon, its consumer drugs joint venture with GlaxoSmithKline and a stake in rival Roche that could raise a combined $50 billion.
Amid speculation Novartis might use proceeds to buy AstraZeneca or Bristol-Myers Squibb to fill holes in its cancer drug portfolio, Jimenez said he remained focused on smaller purchases of up to $5 billion to bolster his pipeline.
“Obviously, there’s been a lot of speculation because that would be a lot of capital,” Jimenez said at an event at Novartis’s research campus in Boston.
“We don’t need a big deal,” he said. “Our strategy in M&A is to do bolt-on acquisitions.”
Money-losing Alcon, which makes surgical equipment for cataracts as well as contact lenses and solutions, is undergoing a strategic review, with “all options” on the table.
Jimenez promised an update by year’s end on the division, which Novartis assigns a remaining book value of $21 billion.
While Jimenez still expects his Sandoz generic drug division’s 2017 revenue to be “broadly in line” with last year’s numbers, he warned price pressure in the United States had intensified in the second quarter.
Sandoz, whose $10.1 billion in revenue in 2016 made up a fifth of Novartis’s total, is among generics makers including India’s Sun Pharmaceutical Industries and Lupin that have said U.S. revenue growth will be muted this year.
Jimenez, who as chairman-elect of U.S. drugmaker industry lobby group PhRMA met President Donald Trump earlier this year, told investors he expected the administration to come forward with proposals on curbing U.S. drug prices “within the next three months”.
Trump in January said drug companies were “getting away with murder” with high drug prices.
Still, Jimenez said on Wednesday he was optimistic the Republican president would strike an industry-friendly balance, possibly incorporating “outcome-based pricing” models that reward drugmakers whose products save the healthcare system money.
“We’re watching it very closely, we’re heavily involved,” Jimenez said of PhRMA’s efforts in Washington. (Editing by Michael Shields and Mark Potter)