Novartis‘s third-quarter core net income rose 4 percent at constant currencies, beating expectations, as the drugmaker said it had made “significant progress” in preparing its Alcon eyecare unit for a possible spinoff by the first half of 2019.

Core net income rose to $3.02 billion, compared to the average analyst estimate of $2.93 billion in a Reuters poll. Sales rose 2 percent to $12.4 billion, compared to the $12.2 billion Reuters poll average.

The Swiss group confirmed its full-year outlook.

On Alcon, where sales rose 7 percent in constant currencies, Novartis said on Tuesday a final decision on the unit’s future hinged on continued sales growth and margin improvement over multiple quarters, making potential action “not likely before the first half of 2019”.

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