When a company has been as eager to buy other businesses as Swiss drug giant Novartis (NYSE:NVS) has been, gauging the "true" growth in the business can be a challenge. But let's give it a shot anyway.

Reported sales growth for the second quarter was 18%, while operating income grew 11%, and net income rose 4%. While it's true that the acquisition of Chiron affected the income lines this quarter (operating income would have been up 23%, net income 15%), it's also true that past purchases of businesses in the generics and consumer-health segments, including the Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE:BMY) over-the-counter drug business, boosted results.

Pharmaceutical sales seem to have grown about 9% this quarter (11% reported, with a 2% reported boost from Chiron). Major franchises, including cardiovascular and oncology, continue to grow well, and signature drugs such as Diovan, Lotrel, and Gleevec continue to set the pace. Considering that level of "organic" pharmaceutical sales growth, I think it's safe to assume that Novartis continues to produce robust operating income growth at least in the mid- to high teens even if you subtract out all of the various pluses and minuses.

It's also fair to think that Novartis should have more good days ahead. The company's Galvus drug for diabetes has shown very attractive efficacy, and looks as though it'll be a legitimate player when approved, though it will face competition from similar medicines at competitors such as Merck (NYSE:MRK), as well as different classes of diabetes drugs from companies such as Amylin Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:AMLN) and its marketing partner EliLilly (NYSE:LLY).

I'd be perfectly happy holding Novartis if I already owned these shares. At today's prices, though, there are other cheaper stocks out there -- including some others in the pharmaceutical space. And whether you're a devout value investor and a subscriber to Inside Value or not, there's a lot to be said for waiting on the right price for even the best stocks out there.

For more pharma-fresh Foolishness:

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Fool contributor Stephen Simpson owns shares of Amylin Pharmaceuticals but has no financial interest in any other stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares). The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.