July 11, 2011 / 12:40 PM / in 7 years

Novartis could be ready to go for buys soon-paper

* First priority is to pay down debt after Alcon buy-CEO

* Confirms 2011 goals

ZURICH, July 11 (Reuters) - Swiss drugmaker Novartis AG could soon be in the position to go for deals again after its $51 billion buy of U.S.-listed eyecare group Alcon, the group’s chief executive was quoted as saying on Monday.

CEO Joe Jimenez said paying down Novartis’ debt of $22 billion was the group’s first priority but that it should be able to do this quickly thanks to its strong cash flow.

“We could soon be in the position to go for acquisitions again, even if they are not as big as Alcon,” Jimenez said in an interview with Swiss newspaper Aargauer Zeitung.

Jimenez also said Novartis was sticking to its target to grow group sales around the double-digit mark this year, and that the drugmaker was on track to further increase its core operating income margin in constant currencies.

Novartis is due to publish its half-year results on July 19.

At 1220 GMT, its shares were trading 0.2 percent lower, underperforming a 0.5 percent rise in the European healthcare index . (Reporting by Katie Reid; Editing by Jon Loades-Carter)

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