AstraZeneca’s drug sales fell again in the third quarter, hit by generic competition to former blockbusters like cholesterol pill Crestor, although the pace of decline slowed as it looks to new cancer treatments to revive its fortunes.

Product sales were down 3 per cent compared with 11 per cent during the first half of the year. Emerging markets proved a bright spot, with Chinese sales up 12 per cent, the company said on Thursday.

Total revenue rose 9 per cent to $6.23bn (£4.75bn), helped by a $997m payment from Merck & Co, which struck a cancer drug partnership deal with the British group in July.

That was not enough to stop a fall in core earnings per share (EPS), which exclude some items, of 15 per cent to $1.12. But the overall results were better than expected and the shares rose more than 2 per cent in early trade.

Industry analysts, on average, had forecast quarterly earnings of $1.04 and revenue of $5.95bn, according to Thomson Reuters data.

For the full year, AstraZeneca said it expected 2017 core EPS performance to be “towards the favourable end of the guidance range of a low to mid-teens percentage decline”.

Chief executive Pascal Soriot believes the drugmaker has reached a turning-point as its pipeline of new medicines starts to deliver – and consensus forecasts also point to a recovery in sales and profits from next year.

Still, the speed of AstraZeneca’s turnaround remains uncertain as the drugmaker goes head to head with industry giants like Roche, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Merck in the fast-growing but fiercely competitive cancer drug market.

AstraZeneca suffered the biggest ever daily fall in its shares three months ago, following the initial failure of a key lung cancer trial dubbed Mystic.

But it has since rebuilt investor expectations, helped by impressive data from two other lung cancer trials, involving the drugs Tagrisso and Imfinzi that were presented at a medical congress in Madrid in September.

And just last week it won early US approval for its Calquence, marking its first entry into the blood cancer market.

However, results from another immunotherapy lung cancer trial called Arctic have been delayed again and are now not expected until the first half of 2018.

AstraZeneca is also refilling its drug pipeline in other areas, such as respiratory medicine. A new drug for severe asthma is awaiting US approval by the end of this year and could get a green light in Europe as early as Friday.

“This impressive momentum is set to continue with regulatory and data milestones that have the potential to show how our science-led strategy and pipeline-driven transformation are delivering for patients and shareholders,” Mr Soriot said.

Reuters