Friday AM January 5th, 2007

Houston physicians note new five-gene test to show which lung cancer patients most need chemotherapy...Challenger, Gray and Christmas notes fewer job cuts in December than last year...ConocoPhillips and Canada-based EnCana create joint venture company...

Scientists in Taiwan have developed a simple, five-gene test to show which lung cancer patients most need chemotherapy. Similar tests already are used with breast cancer and lymphoma patients. In an editorial accompanying the study, Dr. Roy Herbst of the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston says researchers now must test more patients, assign chemotherapy based on the resulting risk scores and track survival. The experimental test needs to be validated in larger groups of patients, so widespread use is perhaps a few years away. But it's already winning praise for its possible use in everyday hospital settings instead of in limited situations by people with special genetics training. The test research is reported in the New England Journal of Medicine. The Taiwan test is much simpler than a different one involving dozens of genes described by Duke University researchers in the same medical journal last August. Lung cancer is the world's top cancer killer. About 175,000 new cases and 162,000 deaths from it occur in the United States each year.


It was a different kind of end-of-year bonus. A new report finds that companies were requiring fewer job cuts as 2006 drew to a close. The outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas says there were nearly 55,000 job cuts announced in December. It says that's about half the number announced a year earlier. Similarly, Challenger says planned job cuts totaled nearly 840,000 last year. That's 232,000 fewer than in 2005. It was the first time since the year 2000 that annual job cut announcements came in below one million.


It's time to dig out the receipts, find the W2s or maybe just call an accountant. The 2007 tax filing season is officially open. If you filed a paper return, you can expect to see a tax package in your mailbox in the coming days. But the IRS wants more Americans to file electronically. Officials say if you're entitled to a refund, you'll get it faster that way. And those making $52,000 a year or less can use Free File, a free electronic program.


Houston-based ConocoPhillips and Calgary, Canada-based EnCana have created a joint venture company, which will have headquarters in Houston. EnCana will provide the upstream portion of the venture in northeast Alberta oilsands. ConocoPhillips will provide the downstream segment with its Illinois and Texas refineries.


Louisiana-based Fairwinds International is absorbing Houston-based engineering group Pheco. Fairwinds International was founded in 1994, with an office here in Houston. The firm hired the key project staff in October.


Houston-based A&E—The Graphics Complex has become a division of Dallas-based Thomas Reprographics, according to the Houston Business Journal. As part of the acquisition, the three Houston locations of Thomas Reprographics will take on the A&E name. With the combination of the companies, there will be seven A&E locations in the Houston area.


Child magazine has named the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia the nation's top pediatric hospital. Texas Children's Hospital in Houston placed fourth. Children's Hospital of Philadelphia also ranked first in cancer care, orthopedics, neonatology and pulmonology and second in cardiac care and emergency medicine. The magazine cites a high level of care and cutting-edge medical research among the 76 children's hospitals that completed the 247-question survey. Children's scored 934 points out of a possible 1,000—topping Child magazine's list for the fourth straight year.


For the second year in a row, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport has retained its title as the nation's busiest in terms of flights. That's according to official data released by the Federal Aviation Administration. Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport ranks third with almost 703,000 flights in 2006, down 2.2 percent from the year before. The Atlanta airport logged more than 976,000 take-offs and landings combined in 2006. That's down fractionally from the year before. Rival Chicago O'Hare International Airport ranks second with almost 959,000 flights in 2006. That's down one-point four percent from the year before.


Environmental groups plan to ask the legislature to slow down plans for up to 19 new coal-fired power plants. The groups worry the plants will pump millions of tons of pollution into the air every year. The Alliance for a Clean Texas wants lawmakers to pass new energy conservation measures in the upcoming legislative session. Alliance members say they also want approval of a resolution to halt permitting of new coal plants in the short term. TXU plans to build 11 plants, and Governor Rick Perry has ordered state agencies to speed up consideration of permits. TXU has said the proposed plants will meet the state's growing demand for power, and reduce toxic emissions by replacing older, less efficient plants. Other opponents of the plants include a coalition of 17 mayors whose cities are downwind of the plants, including Dallas Mayor Laura Miller and Houston Mayor Bill White. There are currently three coal plants operating in Texas.


Immigration raids that rounded up about 1,300 Swift workers at six meat plants last month could cost the company up to $30 million. Operations in Cactus, Texas and five other plants were suspended for hours on December 12th while immigration officials interviewed employees. And the company said reduced production was expected at the plants in the near term. Colorado-based Swift released its preliminary estimate of the one-time impact of the raids. It included $20 million, mostly in lost operating efficiency as new employees are retrained. There's also up to $10 million to retain workers and offer hiring incentives to add back production employees. In Greeley, Colorado, Swift placed newspaper ads offering new hires a signing bonus of $1,500.


Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos wants engineers to join his fledgling and secretive private aerospace business. He's breaking a long silence about his operation in a remote section of west Texas. Bezos posted photos and videos a test launch of a reusable spacecraft on the Web site of his space venture, Blue Origin. The posting shows a cone-shaped vehicle with four metal legs, reminiscent of the clunky models in 1950s science fiction movies, launching in a cloud of smoke. According to blue origin, it reached an altitude of about 285 feet, then landed on its legs. Bezos says the development vehicle --named Goddard --is the first step in a project that will end with "a vertical take-off, vertical-landing vehicle designed to take a small number of astronauts on a sub-orbital journey into space.'' Goddard was launched in November from a site in Culberson County, about 120 miles east of El Paso.


An Atlanta-based company is acquiring Shoney's restaurants in 18 states for an undisclosed amount. Royal Hospitality says it will take over all 282 Shoney's restaurants, owned by an affiliate of Dallas-based Lone Star Funds. Royal expects to complete the acquisition of the 52 company-owned Shoney's restaurants by the end of the month. The restaurants will continue to be called Shoney's, and the chain's headquarters will remain in Nashville, Tennessee. Royal is the largest franchisee of Church's Chicken with 112 restaurants located in Arizona, California and Texas. An affiliate of Lone Star Funds took Shoney's private in 2002 after nearly 30 years of public trading.


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