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NPS pushes new frontiers

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In its early years, NPS Pharmaceuticals coined the moniker "From bugs to drugs," and while the somewhat corny theme has been dropped from the corporate identity, it still captures the fascinating frontiers researchers are pushing at the biotechnology firm.

Directed by co-founder Hunter Jackson, the firm started in 1986 to create and commercialize a unique library of venoms from spiders, scorpions and centipedes collected from around the world. A group of three people began extracting, cataloging and marketing venoms as well as researching medicinal potential of components of these venoms.Based on the early spider venom research, NPS has been able to develop "neoroprotectants" to fight the spread of brain-cell death following a stroke.

The company, formed by a physician and Jackson, a former medical school professor, has also developed "calcimimetics," which help maintain normal levels of calcima and the parathyroid hormone in the bloodstream of those who suffer from hyperparathyroidism. The disease commonly afflicts kidney dialysis patients.

The company is also working with SmithKline Beecham to develop drugs to help stimulate bone growth to counter osteoporosis. The company also has an alliance with drug giant Pfizer. It also has a similar alliance with FMC Corp. to investigate the use of spider toxins as natural pesticides.

The company, which went public in 1994, also has collaborative agreements with the pharmaceutical division of Kirin Brewery Co. in Tokyo and Amgen Inc.

NPS scientists are targeting molecules that show promise in helping neurological disorders such as chronic pain, anxiety, Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease.

Founded in 1986, the company employs about 113 people, and its 1996 revenues were $15.9 million.