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Dr. Rasputin, I Presume?

Given its status in the past year near the top of most dot.com death pools, it's almost a miracle of modern market science that health information Web site drkoop.com is still alive, if not exactly kicking at 22 cents per share.

But there KOOP is, not only breathing, but buying up other Web sites to help boost its revenues and stock price in hopes of avoiding a recently decreed delisting from the Nasdaq.

Shares of drkoop.com have closed below $1 ever since last Oct. 18, a dismal run of nearly five months. The Nasdaq requires companies to maintain a $1 share price in order to keep trading on the exchange, which has scheduled a March 30 meeting to hear KOOP's arguments against the late-February delisting ruling.

While KOOP's chances of survival (never mind staying on the Nasdaq) remain rather slim, the company continues to defy naysayers simply by staying in business while looking for traction. KOOP officials now are hoping the employer market will provide it, thus its acquisition of StayFitUSA.com, a national provider of preventative healthcare and fitness benefit programs for large employer groups.

The deal, announced Wednesday, was a straight stock transaction (figures not disclosed), no surprise given KOOP's tight cash situation, even after last August's infusion of $27.5 million in equity financing.

One of the Internet's biggest cash burners for most of last year, drkoop.com has slashed expenses in the past eight months, laying off 87 workers, or 72% of its staff, and relocating to Santa Monica, Calif., from Austin, Texas.

Company officials say the moves should reduce monthly expenses to less than $1 million from last year's top level of $8 million.

StayFitUSA offers employees of participating companies discounted health and fitness club memberships, online health advice and behavior modification plans. Revenue comes from club membership sales and billing services.

Last November, KOOP scooped up the assets of healthcare advice site DrDrew.com for 1.58 million shares of stock and $150,000 in cash. That purchase pushed KOOP's registered members past the 2 million mark.

Still, KOOP's prognosis remains grim. Revenues have declined from a high of $5.4 million in Q4 '99 to just $2 million in last year's third quarter, while losses during that stretch grew to $1.60 per share from 41 cents per share.

Yet KOOP also reduced current liabilities to $11.8 million in last year's Q3 from $24.3 million in the first quarter of 2000.

Like nearly everyone else, I wrote off KOOP some time ago, and would hardly recommend its stock - after all, surviving ain't thriving.

But in today's market, survival itself is an accomplishment, and the KOOP story has become almost intriguing. I'm looking forward to the March 30 hearing; who knows, the doctor may surprise us again.