Shanxi Central Pharmaceutical International became the most successful debut play on the SAR main board in two months after its shares soared 76 per cent yesterday. The Chinese-medicine maker and hospital operator finished at HK$1.50. Brokers said the company benefited from a recent shift of investor appetite towards lagging mainland stocks. Mainland pharmaceutical companies are trading at a low price-earnings ratio of about six, an SG Emerging Markets Equity Research analyst said. Chinese medicine is becoming increasingly popular in the West and local companies are positioning themselves to cash in on this growing market, according to Shanxi Central chairman Hou Liping. The United States market for Chinese medicine alone is estimated to be worth US$17 billion to US$18 billion a year and growing at an annual rate of US$1.5 billion, Ms Hou pointed out. Shanxi Central yesterday said it was in talks with local universities to build a traditional Chinese medicine research and development centre that would focus on health care and dietary-supplement products. The company also plans to develop Chinese medicine and health-food products with local universities. 'To market our products towards the international market, we need to co-operate with overseas universities for research and development,' Ms Hou said. 'We are already in talks with both Hong Kong Baptist University and the Chinese University of Hong Kong but nothing has yet been finalised.' Patrick Ko, a court member at Baptist University, said Hong Kong's universities could lend marketing support to mainland pharmaceutical companies and act as a conduit to the international market.