* 2018 EPS expected to grow between 4-5 pct
* Third quarter profits above expectations
* Sanofi shares rise 5 pct (Adds context, shares)
By Matthias Blamont
PARIS, Oct 31 (Reuters) - Sanofi lifted its 2018 profit target for the second time this year after robust sales of its vaccines and rare diseases division, Genzyme, helped it beat third-quarter profit expectations.
The French drugmaker, hurt by declining sales of its diabetes treatments and a struggle to refill its drug pipeline fast enough in recent years, said it now expected earnings per share to grow by between 4 and 5 percent this year, up from a previous 3-5 percent target range.
Several big pharmaceutical companies have raised their 2018 outlook this month on the back of better-than-anticipated quarterly results, including Johnson and Johnson, Merck and Bristol-Myers Squibb in the United States.
Investors were keen to see Sanofi deliver on its pledge to achieve growth in the third quarter following a flat first half.
Shares in the drugmaker were up 5 percent in early trading.
To compensate for slumping sales at its diabetes unit, Sanofi has been busy on multiple fronts this year, completing takeover deals worth about $16 billion, expanding in oncology and speeding up cost-cutting efforts.
Revenue of Dupixent, widely seen as the company's most exciting approved treatment - the drug is prescribed for eczema in adults and was approved in the United States this month as an additional therapy for two types of asthma - totalled 225 million euros in the third quarter, ahead of analysts' estimates.
Sanofi co-develops Dupixent with U.S partner Regeneron for at least seven other conditions including paediatric asthma, chronic sinus infection with nasal polyps, and adolescent eczema.
Sanofi's third-quarter net income rose by 10.3 percent at constant exchange rates to 2.3 billion euros ($2.6 billion) while revenues increased 6.3 percent to 9.4 billion euros.
Analysts polled by Reuters in partnership with Inquiry Financial had on average expected a net income of 2.14 billion euros on revenues of 9.3 billion euros.
Sales at Genzyme surged 36.1 percent to 1.9 billion euros. Vaccines' revenue, hit in the second quarter by supply constraints of an infant vaccine in China, rose 8.2 percent.
Diabetes and cardiovascular sales, however, fell 12.1 percent.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted priority review for Sanofi's vaccine against dengue despite high concerns around its use for patients who have not previously been exposed to the disease.
A spokesman for Sanofi said several private laboratories in Puerto Rico - where the vaccine would be deployed if approved in the United States - offered commercial dengue tests before a rapid test Sanofi is working on can be made available. ($1 = 0.8818 euros) (Reporting by Matthias Blamont; Editing by Inti Landauro/Sudip Kar-Gupta/Susan Fenton)