UPDATE 1-Sanofi lifts 2014 profit forecast as Q2 beats expectations

* Aims for 6-8 pct rise in 2014 business EPS, up from 4-7 pct

* Q2 sales 8.08 bln eur, EPS 1.17 eur

* Diabetes, Genzyme, emerging markets drive sales

* CEO hopes for U.S. launch of alirocumab in H2 2015

(Adds CEO comments on H2 outlook, mature products, context)

PARIS, July 31 (Reuters) - French drugmaker Sanofi raised its full-year profit forecast on Thursday along with a set of stronger than expected quarterly earnings driven by its rare disease and diabetes businesses and higher sales in emerging markets.

Chief Executive Chris Viehbacher was upbeat on the company's performance in the months ahead, with sales of vaccines seen rising and regulatory filings expected for several new treatments, including a potential blockbuster cholesterol drug.

Sanofi has sought in recent years to shake off the impact of patent losses on big-selling drugs, such as blood thinner Plavix, by betting on so-called "growth platforms" that include diabetes, rare diseases and over-the-counter treatments. Like other drugmakers, it also revamped its research and development (R&D) to launch new, harder-to-copy and pricier biologic drugs.

It invested 1.4 billion euros ($1.9 billion) so far this year to raise to 22 percent its stake in U.S. biotech Regeneron , its partner on several promising experimental drugs.

One of these, cholesterol drug alirocumab, could reach the U.S market in the second half of next year, at the same time or ahead of U.S. rival Amgen, Viehbacher said.

After a string of disappointing results last year, Sanofi has been providing a 2014 earnings guidance that analysts widely viewed as conservative, for business EPS to grow 4-7 percent at constant exchange rates. On Thursday, it said it now expected a rise of 6-8 percent, barring major unforeseen adverse events.

Chief Executive Chris Viehbacher told reporters on a conference call that the group saw upside in its vaccines business, in decline so far this year. The unit should return to double-digit growth in the second half, Viehbacher said, forecasting "a very successful" flu season in the United States.

However, he noted that the United States was becoming a tougher market in terms of pricing. "That bears watching and would be my only point of caution for the future," he said.


Pricing pressures from cash-strapped governments seeking to restrict their healthcare spending and tough competition from generics has prompted drugmakers worldwide to rationalise their businesses and triggered a wave of mergers and acquisitions.

Viehbacher has said Sanofi is constantly on the look-out for acquisitions to boost its core business units, such as consumer and animal health products, but will not do deals at any price. He restated this position on Thursday.

Sanofi is also looking to offload a portfolio of some 200 mature drugs in Europe, valued at 6.3 billion euros, as it strives to reduce exposure to price cuts and relatively high manufacturing costs on the continent, according to an internal document circulated by a labour union.

Within the industry, "everybody is talking to everybody" on what to do with mature drugs, Viehbacher said. He noted that these products, while on the decline, still generate a lot of cash flow and it is not easy to find a solution for them.

Sanofi's business net income, which excludes items such as amortisation and legal costs, rose 3.9 percent to 1.54 billion euros on sales of 8.08 billion, putting business EPS at 1.17 euros per share. Analysts polled by Reuters had expected EPS of 1.14 euros a share on sales of 8.1 billion.

Adverse foreign exchange rates, mainly the result of a strong euro and weak US dollar, shaved 5.5 percentage points off quarterly sales growth.

At constant exchange rates, sales in emerging markets - which account for over a third of Sanofi's revenue - rose 16.5 percent, driven by Latin America and China, and 9.4 percent in the United States. They fell 2.8 percent in Western Europe.

Sales of Lantus, the world's most prescribed insulin, rose 16.3 percent over the quarter, to 1.56 billion euros. Sales jumped 29.1 percent at Sanofi's rare diseases unit Genzyme and returned to growth at its animal health unit Merial, helped by the launch of new flea and tick control drug NexGard. (1 US dollar = 0.7465 euro)

(Reporting by Natalie Huet; Editing by Mark John and Andrew Callus)