UPDATE 2-J&J raises forecast after quarterly profit beats estimates

(Adds background on medical devices, details on pharmaceutical sales, vaccine efforts, analyst comment)

July 16 (Reuters) - Johnson & Johnson raised its full-year profit forecast and beat analysts’ estimates for quarterly earnings on Thursday as strength in its pharmaceuticals unit cushioned a steep fall in sales of its medical devices due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The healthcare conglomerate, which is among the companies racing to develop a vaccine for the coronavirus, is planning to begin human studies later this month.

Meanwhile, Moderna Inc is gearing up to begin late-stage studies later this month, while AstraZeneca Plc is expected to report results from its experimental coronavirus vaccine soon.

Sales of medical devices at J&J tumbled by a third in the second quarter as hospitals and patients delayed non-urgent procedures like hip and knee replacements, but J.P. Morgan analyst Chris Schott said the unit seems to be benefiting from a faster-than-expected rebound in these procedures.

Some states have started to resume elective procedures, and J&J said in April that it expects a recovery in the fourth quarter of this year.

A strong performance by its pharmaceuticals business, its biggest, offset some of the slump in medical device sales. The unit was helped by strong demand for Stelara, used to treat Crohn’s disease and plaque psoriasis, and cancer drug Darzalex.

The company raised its full-year adjusted profit forecast to $7.75 to $7.95 per share, from its prior estimate of $7.50 to $7.90 per share.

J&J reported net earnings of $3.63 billion, or $1.36 per share, in the second quarter, down from $5.61 billion, or $2.08 per share, a year earlier.

Excluding items, J&J earned $1.67 per share, beating the average analyst estimate of $1.49, according to Refinitiv estimate.