Not every large-cap pharmaceutical's earnings announcement can be as anticipated as Merck's (NYSE: MRK) was yesterday. Even so, Novartis (NYSE: NVS) has been dealing with its own share of issues. Investors got an update on the big pharma's recovery when it released first-quarter results yesterday.

I wouldn't call these numbers particularly special, but they're not too shabby, either. Revenue from continuing operations rose 9% versus last year, operating income climbed 7%, and earnings totaled $1.02 per share.

All three of Novartis's major divisions (pharmaceuticals, consumer health care, and generic drugs) experienced sales growth, even in the face of some tough comparisons to last year. For instance, Novartis had to pull one of its top pharmaceutical drugs, irritable-bowel-syndrome treatment Zelnorm, from the U.S. market in the beginning of the second quarter last year (meaning Zelnorm sales still occurred in Q1 07 but not in Q1 08). It's also failed thus far to gain the expected FDA approval of its diabetes compound Galvus.

Despite its pharmaceutical division's rocky road over the past year, Novartis' branded-drugs division still accounts for nearly two-thirds of its total sales, making it Novartis' most important segment. To reduce its dependency on that single division, the company keeps working on diversifying its revenue base. It recently took an $11 billion stake in eye-care medical-device and consumer health-care developer Alcon (NYSE: ACL) from Nestle. This deal helps to transform Novartis into an even more diversified health-care company.

At a drugmaker the size of Novartis, there will always be setbacks, and certain divisions will always grow slower than others. While some other large-cap drugmakers like Pfizer (NYSE: PFE) are still scrambling to figure out how to replace soon-to-be-genericized blockbuster drugs, Novartis is actively working to ensure years of further growth ahead.

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Fool contributor Brian Lawler does not own shares of any company mentioned in this article. Pfizer is also a recommendation of Inside Value. The Fool has an A+ disclosure policy.