NPS Pharmaceuticals Inc. announced Wednesday that it hassigned an exclusive five-year agreement with a Madagascarscience agency to seek medical uses from poisonous insects.

The private Salt Lake City company will investigate novel drugleads from toxins found in arachnids, a group that includesspiders and scorpions. The company also anticipates helpingthe island nation conserve and learn about its wildlife.

Many of the island's species are unique due to its longevolutionary isolation. The plants and animals are threatened,however, by people's encroachment. At least two-thirds of theforests have already been destroyed. The country is the homeof unique baobab trees and leaping lemurs.

"The importance of this agreement stems in part from the factthat 90 percent of the animal life on Madagascar is foundnowhere else," said Hunter Jackson, chairman and chiefexecutive officer of NPS.

"By working together we can pursue our twin goals ofconservation and improvement of world health through thediscovery and development of novel medicines," said P. RobertRandriamiharisoa, a director of the Centre NationalD'Applications et de Recherches Pharmaceutiques that enteredinto the agreement.

Field work will build on a survey by NPS consultant SarahKariko, a Fullbright scholar who studied these species inMadagascar.

NPS is focused on calcium-related drug targets in suchconditions as stroke, osteoporosis and hyperparathyroidism.

-- Nancy Garcia Associate Editor

(c) 1997 American Health Consultants. All rights reserved.