Seattle biotechnology company Xcyte Therapies, which works on harnessing T-cells to bolster immune-system responses to cancer and other...

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Seattle biotechnology company Xcyte Therapies, which works on harnessing T-cells to bolster immune-system responses to cancer and other diseases, said it cut its workforce by about half to 34 employees.

The staff reduction will result in a $554,000 charge in the third quarter, the company said in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing yesterday.

Because of the job cuts, Xcyte said it won’t pursue clinical development of its products. That means it won’t follow through on plans announced in May to seek regulatory approval later this year for a clinical trial in combating HIV. The company said July 5 it is exploring “strategic options” such as a merger, sale or licensing arrangement. Xcyte went through two previous rounds of layoffs this year, first cutting 26 employees in March and then an additional 12 in May — including its chief operating officer

Shares of Xcyte fell 2 cents to 63 cents yesterday, before news of the staff cuts was announced. The stock has fallen 77 percent in the past year.

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Starbucks

Company wins

trademark in Russia

Starbucks, the world’s largest coffee-shop chain, won the rights to its trademark in Russia, ending a three-year legal dispute that kept the U.S. company out of the $500 million brewed-coffee market, said Russian-language business daily Vedomosti.

Starbucks registered its trademark in 1997, only to lose it in 2002 after a company called Press successfully appealed to Russia’s Patents and Trademark Committee to annul it for lack of use, the newspaper said, citing unidentified patent officials.

In September, a Russian company, OOO Starbucks, registered the brand, prompting Seattle-based Starbucks to sue, which it did successfully July 11, the daily said. Starbucks is now in talks with two local chains about operating its stores under a franchise agreement, the paper said.

Last month, Starbucks opened a store in the basement of a Moscow hotel operated by Marriott International. The Moscow Times reported that Starbucks skirted the trademark question through an international cooperation agreement with Marriott.

Microsoft

Pact to bring Marvel heroes to Xbox

Microsoft said yesterday that it won exclusive rights to develop and publish multiplayer online games starring Marvel Enterprises’ superheroes, including Spider-Man, the X-Men and the Hulk.

The deal covers massively multiplayer online (MMO) game titles developed for Microsoft’s upcoming Xbox 360 gaming console and published by the software giant’s game studio.

The deal is Marvel’s first MMO pact. The first title is expected in 2008.

MMO games allow players in various locations to compete. Such game play is popular with PC gamers in Asia. Some analysts estimate that as many as 2 million people are MMO game players

The Xbox 360, Microsoft’s next-generation game console, is due out this fall.

Compiled from Bloomberg News, Seattle Times business staff

and Reuters

Nation/World

Unocal

Board mum as talk

of bidding war grows

A crucial Unocal board meeting yesterday to discuss competing bids from Chevron and a Chinese oil company ended without any public statement on the outcome, as expectations of a bidding war between the two suitors grew.

Unocal, which has so far backed Chevron’s offer despite a higher bid from China’s CNOOC, declined to provide any details on the meeting at the company’s El Segundo, Calif., headquarters.

A Unocal spokesman said it would violate securities law if he disclosed when the company plans to issue a statement.

The jockeying between the two suitors — complicated by strong rhetoric in Washington, D.C., against the Chinese bid — has raised fears among investors that an outright bidding war for Unocal could erupt.

For now, CNOOC has agreed to set aside roughly $2.5 billion in an escrow account that would be paid to Unocal shareholders if the Chinese firm backed out of the deal, sources familiar with the situation have said.

Chevron has continued to stand by its $16 billion-plus agreement signed in April, though some analysts and investors expect the company to sweeten its bid as a crucial vote by Unocal shareholders on Aug. 10 draws near.

Vioxx

Suit faults studies

to support drug safety

In a new twist in the thousands of lawsuits filed against Merck over its now withdrawn pain reliever, Vioxx, a suit filed this week insists the pharmaceutical maker relied too heavily on animal studies to support the drug’s safety.

Nancy Tufford alleges that taking Vioxx caused her to develop congestive heart failure and is seeking $1 million in compensatory damages plus punitive damages in a case filed in the Superior Court of New Jersey. Tufford is a member of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a nonprofit group that promotes alternatives to animal research. The group is providing Tufford’s lawyer.

Tufford’s suit says that “Merck relied upon data derived from animal testing that it knew or should have known were unreliable or scientifically unsound as a basis for predicting the effects of Vioxx in humans.”

Merck withdrew Vioxx from the market last year after a study found it doubled patients’ risk of heart attacks and strokes. The country’s first Vioxx wrongful-death trial began yesterday in Texas.

Enron

Jurors fail to reach

verdict on 5 ex-execs

Jurors deliberated for about 6 ½ hours yesterday without reaching a verdict in a federal conspiracy and fraud case involving five former executives of Enron’s defunct broadband unit.

The case went to the panel late Wednesday after two days of closing arguments culminated three months of testimony.

Broadband unit CEO Joseph Hirko, top strategist Scott Yeager, software engineer Rex Shelby, finance chief Kevin Howard and in-house accountant Michael Krautz all face lengthy prison terms if convicted.

The five are charged with conspiracy to commit wire and securities fraud. In testimony, all denied any wrongdoing. Jurors are considering 160 counts.

No deliberations are planned for today, and the panel will return Monday.

Compiled from The Associated Press and Reuters