Xcyte Therapies, a Seattle biotech company working to stimulate the immune system against cancer and HIV, has named Christopher Henney as chairman of the board.

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Xcyte Therapies, a Seattle biotech company working to stimulate the immune system against cancer and HIV, has named Christopher Henney as chairman of the board.

Henney, 64, lends the company instant name recognition. He is a scientific founder of two of the Northwest’s most successful biotechs — Immunex and Icos.

From 1995 through 2002, he was chief executive of Seattle-based Dendreon, which is pursuing a different technology for stimulating the immune system against cancer. He left that company’s board a year ago.

Xcyte has been struggling since it went public a year ago, seeing its stock drop from $8 to $1.38 yesterday.

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Plans for a pivotal clinical trial were put on hold last month because of questions from regulators.

Henney said he is intrigued by the company’s scientific approach and its rare skill at manufacturing cell-based therapies.

He said he had only a surface-level understanding of Xcyte’s approach until Chief Executive Ron Berenson explained it to him in the past month.

Henney plans to be active, meeting weekly to talk strategy with Berenson and being available to meet with investors.

“The company is undervalued in my book, it’s not well understood,” Henney said. “It’s Ron’s company and Ron’s vision, but I think I may be able to help explain it in a way that captivates people’s imaginations, the way it has captivated mine.”

Bob Kirkman, Xcyte’s chief business officer, said the company hopes Henney will help raise Xcyte’s public profile, which could help it raise much-needed investment capital.

“We obviously hope with his background and his connections with Wall Street, he’ll help us realize the value we have here,” Kirkman said.

Henney also serves on the boards of two other companies: Biomira of Edmonton, Alberta, and Bionomics of Adelaide, Australia.

Luke Timmerman: 206-515-5644 or ltimmerman@seattletimes.com