PREVIEW-Eczema drug expected to lift Sanofi earnings amid vaccine worries

PARIS, Feb 4 (Reuters) - Sanofi is expected to post higher quarterly earnings this week, once more on the back of its star eczema treatment Dupixent as concerns linger about the future of one of its COVID-19 vaccine candidates.

The French drugmaker will publish fourth-quarter and full-year 2020 results on Friday and will host a virtual investor day focusing on upcoming drugs.

Sanofi has not warned of any delays in trials as it awaits pivotal results for several drugs this year, but the pandemic has affected many clinical research activities across the world.

“In the near term the story is likely to be more about possible green shoots from the earlier stage pipeline if studies have remained on track,” analysts at UBS wrote in a note.

Performance at the vaccines division will also be under the spotlight with increased demand from governments for Sanofi’s new flu shots in the light of COVID-19.

Questions remain, however, about its efforts in the global search for COVID-19 vaccines after Sanofi and Britain’s GlaxoSmithKline said in December a protein-based vaccine they are developing had showed an insufficient immune response in older people, delaying its launch toward the end of 2021.

Under pressure to seek ways of helping the global fight, the company said it had agreed to fill and pack millions of doses of a Pfizer/BioNTech shot from July.

“For us, there has been a major missed opportunity in the first wave of the pandemic vaccine story for Sanofi,” Emmanuel Papadakis, an analyst with Deutsche Bank, said.

“Our key interest will be around their ability to catch up,” he said.

Sanofi is also working on another possible COVID-19 vaccine with U.S. firm Translate Bio, with trials due to start this month.

Analysts polled by Refinitiv expect Sanofi to post quarterly earnings per share growth of around 7% at constant exchange rates year-on-year to 1.16 euros ($1.39) and total sales of 9.6 billion euros.

Sales of biologic eczema treatment Dupixent, which has been a key revenue driver for Sanofi, are expected to grow by more than 50%, topping 1 billion euros.

The company is due to update on progress towards its goal of generating 2 billion euros savings by 2022 to lift its business operating income margin to 30% by then. ($1 = 0.8330 euros) (Reporting by Matthias Blamont; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)