Swiss pharmaceuticals giant Novartis today posted a 24% jump in first-quarter net profit, driven largely by the sale of a blood transfusion diagnostics unit.

The company, which earlier this week announced an extreme make-over of its structure, said it had raked in a net profit of $2.96 billion  (€2.14 billion) during the first three months of the year.

Not counting acquisitions or other exceptional events such as the $900m it booked during the quarter on the sale of its blood transfusion diagnostics unit to the Spanish firm Grifols, Novartis said its net profit remained flat year-on-year at $3.12 billion.

That was slightly higher than the $3.05 billion expected by analysts, according to a poll by Dow Jones Newswires.

The company saw its net sales edge up just 1% during the quarter to $14.02 billion, missing analyst expectations it would rake in $14.22 billion.

Largely thanks to the diagnostics unit sale, announced last November, Novartis meanwhile saw its operating profit for the quarter soar 22% to $3.5 billion.

Novartis chief executive Joe Jimenez was upbeat about the company's results. "Novartis delivered a solid quarter, with all divisions contributing to growth," he said, adding that going forward, things should only get better.

"The transformational deals announced on Tuesday position the company for future success based on our sharpened focus, innovation power and financial strength," he said.

He was referring to the unveiling of several multi-billion-dollar deals with GlaxoSmithKline and Eli Lilly, which will result in a major shake-up of the pharmaceutical sector.