Novartis plans to spin off its generics unit Sandoz to sharpen its focus on its patented prescription medicines, the Swiss group said on Thursday.

Sandoz, which generated nearly $10 billion in sales last year, will emerge as Europe's leading generics company, according to Novartis.

The company initiated a strategic review of the business last October as price pressures mounted in the off-patent drug sector.

The company has not received any formal binding offers for Sandoz - but if any "highly attractive" bids did emerge Novartis would fully consider them, CEO Vas Narasimhan told a media briefing on Thursday.

However, "the most likely case - in all scenarios - is that we will see through a spin," he said.

The standalone Sandoz is expected to be headquartered in Switzerland and listed on the SIX Swiss Exchange, with an American Depositary Receipt programme in the United States. Richard Saynor would remain CEO following the spin-off.

The transaction, which is expected to be generally tax-neutral for Novartis, is expected to be completed in the second half of next year, subject to market conditions, tax rulings and opinions, final board endorsement and shareholder approvals, Novartis said.

The separation of the generics business makes sense, as the management of the businesses has increased in complexity in recent years, Vontobel analysts wrote in a note.

Novartis has been pruning its business interests, spinning off its Alcon eye care business in 2019 and last November agreeing to sell a nearly one-third voting stake in Roche.

It tried to divest part of the Sandoz unit back in 2018, but a $900 million deal with India's Aurobindo Pharma fell foul of antitrust rules.

Now, CEO Narasimhan has taken a step further with the spin-off of the division, which accounted for close to a fifth of Novartis' $51.6 billion in sales last year.

Novartis is also currently executing a restructuring programme that involves cutting up to 8,000 jobs, or about 7.4% of its global workforce.