Swiss pharmaceutical group Novartis today laid the ground for a near $40 billion takeover of the world's biggest eye care company Alcon from food giant Nestle in a bid to boost its healthcare portfolio.

Nestle said it would use the funds from the sale to support opportunities for growth as it seeks to expand in the nutrition, health and wellness areas.

Under the deal, Novartis will acquire about 24.85% of  Alcon for about $11 billion. In addition, it has an option valid from January 2010 until July 2011 to acquire Nestle's remaining majority stake of about 52% in Alcon for around $28 billion.

Novartis said the complete deal would 'further strengthen its  healthcare-focused business portfolio.'

It also enhances the group's 'longer-term growth prospects with greater access to the faster-growing eye-care market, a speciality field with unmet patient needs and annual sales of about $25 billion in 2007.'

In 2007, Alcon generated annual sales of $5.6 billion and net profit of $1.6 billion.

Its speciality in eye care extends to surgical, pharmaceutical and consumer products, and Novartis sees areas of development including a broader portfolio of eye care products, in particular with CIBA Vision's contact lens business and Novartis'  Lucentis, a medication for severe eye diseases.

Nestle and Novartis are no strangers in major deals. In 2006, Novartis sold a medical nutrition business to Nestle for $2.5 billion.