Sales were down but earnings were up and the forecast for growth remains on target, says GlaxoSmithKline CEO Andrew Witty about the drug giant’s latest financial report.

GSK (NYSE: GSK), which operates its U.S. headquarters in RTP, disclosed its first quarter financials Wednesday.

“Despite the decline in sales, core earnings per share for the quarter grew 2%,” Witty said in a statement.

“This reflected the diversity of the Group, benefits from ongoing restructuring and effective cost control, together with further delivery of financial efficiencies in both interest and tax charges. We continue to expect further structural cost savings to be delivered in the second half of the year.”

GSK, which earlier this month announced a major deal with Novartis that will tighten the focus of GSK research and development as well as product offerings and pipeline, reported $9.45 billion in sales.

Earnings were down 18 percent from a year earlier.

Hurting sales were declines in China, where the company is embroiled in a scandal, and a fall in lung drug Advair demand in the U.S.

Witty, however, remains optimistic.

“For 2014, we continue to target core earnings per share growth of 4-8% CER ex-divestments,” he said. “We also continue to expect to grow sales at constant exchange rates and on an ex-divestment basis. However, the exact level of sales growth will depend on a number of factors, including the roll-out of new products, the level of generic competition to older products, including Lovaza for which a generic approval was granted in April, and the phasing of resupply of products in our Consumer Healthcare business.” 

The full earnings report can be read online.