The world's biggest food group Nestle (IW 1000/37) is moving into traditional Chinese medicine by joining forces with Chinese pharma group Chi-Med, the Swiss group said on Wednesday.

The new entity, called Nutrition Science Partners (NSP), is to be owned equally by the two parties, Nestle said, without revealing any of the financials behind the deal.

NSP will research, develop, make and sell nutritional and medicinal products derived from botanical plants, it said.

The joint venture will also hand Nestle's Health Science division, which is handling the deal, access to Chi-Med's traditional Chinese medicine library, which with more than 50,000 extracts from more than 1,200 different herbal plants is one of the world's largest, the statement said.

Initially, the product focus will be on gastro-intestinal health -- a market worth up to $6 billion according to Chi-Med -- but could in future expand into metabolic diseases and brain health, Nestle said.

For Chi-Med, the deal, which is still subject to regulatory approvals, will bring "a stream of novel botanical medicines and nutritional products to market and in so doing build significant value for patients and for our shareholders," company chief executive Christian Hogg .

"Botanical are in the forefront in our view in the search for new medicines," the Chi-Med chief said.

Traditional Chinese plant-based medicines represented between 30% and 40% of all pharma sales in China, he added.

"This joint venture provides Nestlé Health Science with an opportunity to develop and commercialize truly innovative and scientifically validated botanical-based nutrition for personalized healthcare in gastro-intestinal health," Nestle Health Science head Luis Cantarell said.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2012