AN ARTICLE WEDNESDAY ABOUT A WORLD WIDE WEB COMPANY CO-FOUNDED BY FORMER SURGEON GENERAL C. EVERETT KOOP MISIDENTIFIED A MUSEUM WITH WHICH HE IS AFFILIATED. IT IS THE NATIONAL HEALTH MUSEUM. (PUBLISHED 06/12/99)
C. Everett Koop, renowned as a surgeon, then as surgeon general and then as a relentless crusader against smoking, yesterday took on yet another identity -- Internet millionaire -- as owner of 11 percent of a company known as Drkoop.com.
Shares of the company, which Koop co-founded in January 1997 to bring medical information to the masses via the World Wide Web, were traded publicly for the first time yesterday, and his chunk promptly acquired a value of $56 million. Securities regulations prohibit Koop from selling his shares for at least 180 days.
The shares were the most heavily traded on the Nasdaq Stock Market yesterday, with a total of 26.6 million changing hands. The stock, which made its debut at $9 per share, closed at $16.43 3/4.
All this for a company that lost $9 million last year after bringing in just $43,000 in revenue.
New Internet stocks have a reputation for pulling off stunts like that, though in fact recent ones ran into a bit of trouble as investors have grown wary. But Drkoop.com restored the magic. It has something that none of the others do: Koop.
"These days, unless you've got a brand or real name recognition, you're not going to make much headway" in the stock market, said Ulric Weil, an analyst with Friedman, Billings, Ramsey & Co. in Arlington.
But what does Koop really have to do with Drkoop.com? Is it just a front-man relationship, like actor William Shatner's televised puffery for Priceline.com?
"I don't have my name on things with which I'm not involved," Koop said in an interview yesterday. "Drkoop.com satisfies a passion of mine -- that is, to educate the largest number of people possible to take charge of their health." As for day-to-day involvement, "the best thing you could say is that I set the standards -- it's too big for any one person to have his hand on everything."
Koop, 82, serves as the company's chairman and head of its medical advisory board. He writes occasional editorials on the site and conducts typed "chats" with the more than 83,000 registered users. Yesterday, caught on his way to a dinner with the board of the health group Shape Up America after having spent the day in meetings about the planned American Museum of Health, Koop said he hopes to become more involved with the site "if I can ever get the rest of my life straightened out."
The site is one of many places on the Internet aimed at consumers who are hungry for dependable medical information. Health information abounds online, but consumers complain that the quality of that information is uncertain at best. Web sites hawking "herbal Viagra" and "natural" colonic cleansing compete for consumer attention against sites like Healthfinder.gov, a federally sponsored information clearinghouse.
People "want to turn to someone whose name they recognize as a credible person, with integrity," said analyst Weil.
With his rumbling, word-of-God voice and his trademark beard and bow ties, Koop fits that definition for many people. During his term as surgeon general, he made waves by calling for quick public action against AIDS, and since then he has fought alongside anti-tobacco activists to curb youth smoking.
This is not the first time Koop has tried to cash in on his experience. He signed an attractive deal in 1994 to host a series of health videos marketed through pharmacies; that series was not a commercial success.
David A. Kessler, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration and Koop's chief ally in the tobacco wars, said he was happy to see that this time his friend is meeting big-time financial success.
Who knows, he joked, anti- smoking activists might finally get funding that was supposed to be coming from lawsuit settlements: "Dr. Koop can now fund the entire program!"
CAPTION: A HEALTHY START (This chart was not available)