June 29, 2018 / 5:28 AM / 3 months ago

UPDATE 1-Novartis to spin off Alcon, will buy back $5 bln in shares

(Adds details, background, comment from Novartis)

ZURICH, June 29 (Reuters) - Novartis unveiled its long-expected plan to spin off all of its Alcon eye care devices business and launch a share buyback of up to $5 billion as the company sharpens its focus on prescription drugs, it said on Friday.

Novartis will hold a shareholder meeting next February to get approval for the spin off, which is due to be completed in the first half of next year. The share buyback is due to be completed by 2019.

Chief Executive Vas Narasimhan is pressing ahead with his predecessor Joe Jimenez's bid to remake Novartis into a drugmaker focused on prescription medicines, unwinding the decade-long expansion overseen by former CEO and chairman Daniel Vasella to turn the company into a broad health care firm. reut.rs/2KvMKPK

Novartis's $52 billion takeover of U.S.-based eye care giant Alcon, completed in 2011, largely fell flat, with the drugmaker forced to make massive investments to reverse falling sales and turn the Alcon's fortunes around.

Alcon's revenue is again growing, and following a review, Narasimhan opted to unload to business in a spin off which for more than a year has been the company's preferred option.

"We continue to execute our strategy to focus Novartis as a leading medicines company," Narasimhan said in a statement. "Alcon has returned to a position of strength and it is time to give the business more flexibility to pursue its own growth strategy."

Novartis said the new listing is slated for both New York and Zurich. Alcon's existing head, Mike Ball, will become its chairman, while David Endicott will become Alcon CEO, both effective July 1, 2018. (Reporting by John Miller, editing by John Revill)

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