Updated from 4:35 a.m. EDT

Novartis ( NVS) said third-quarter earnings from continuing operations rose 32% to $2.1 billion and sales rose 12% to $10.7 billion as pharmaceuticals sales rose ahead of expectations and its U.S. business returned to growth.

The Swiss drug maker also said Monday it plans to cut about 550 full-time positions in its U.S. sales force. The company will record a fourth-quarter charge of about $20 million.

Novartis also reaffirmed expectations for a year of record net sales and earnings in 2008.

Novartis also appointed Joerg Reinhardt as chief operating officer. He formerly served as head of vaccines and diagnostics.

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