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(Bloomberg) -- Novartis AG proposed buying back $5 billion of shares and said it’s considering separating its embattled eye-care division after projecting that sales this year at Europe’s second-biggest drugmaker will likely be largely unchanged from 2016.

Earnings, excluding some expenses, will probably remain flat or decline by a “low single digit” percent in 2017, the the Basel, Switzerland-based company said Wednesday in a statement. Alternatives under consideration for the Alcon unit may include a spin-off or an initial public offering; Novartis expects to make a decision by the end of the year.

Alcon, which sells surgical equipment for ophthalmologists and contact lenses, continues to “make progress” toward a turnaround, Novartis said on Wednesday. Improving its operations was one of five priorities for 2016. The Swiss company boosted its investment in the business to accelerate sales and improve customer service, and made some small acquisitions to bolster its pipeline. Other steps to fix the business included moving the ophthalmic pharmaceutical drugs from Alcon to the pharmaceuticals division a year ago, and appointing a new chief for the unit.

Profit in the three months ended December dropped for the eighth straight quarter as generic competition hurt sales of the blockbuster cancer treatment Gleevec.

To contact the reporter on this story: James Paton in London at jpaton4@bloomberg.net. To contact the editors responsible for this story: Chitra Somayaji at csomayaji@bloomberg.net.

©2017 Bloomberg L.P.

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