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ARRIS PHARMACEUTICAL's $ 8 MIL. IN FIRST-ROUND FINANCING is earmarked for three research projects for orally-active drugs for cardiovascular and pulmonary diseases. The firm, headed by former Genetech VP-Medicinal and Biomolecular Chemistry Michael Ross, PhD, was founded in May 1989 by C.W. Group venture capitalist Chuck Hartman. The seed round of financing raised $ 8 mil. for the startup, which combines researchers and advisors in the fields of molecular biology, cell biology, peptide chemistry, X-ray crystallography, applied mathematics and computational science. South San Francisco-based Arris is using artificial intelligence tools such as robotics, machine vision and machine learning to develop "new molecular shape representations and identify important structural patterns in those shapes," the firm said. A daily pill to treat atherosclerosis is the firm's initial product-development effort. Arris is also working on an oral replacement for erythropoietin and "a series of products in the pulmonary area." The atherosclorosis treatment is a collaborative project with Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers to develop a macrophage scavenger receptor (MSR) inhibitor. The potential therapeutic would block the formation of "foam cells" -- formed when macrophages bind with "bad" low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol -- and the subsequent formation of artery-clogging plaque. An MSR inhibitor could be used in conjunction with cholesterol-lowering drugs, Arris noted. The R&D firm expects to sign up a corporate partner "within the next year," the company said. Arris initially plans to license worldwide rights to its products, with the eventual goal of retaining some rights for products in certain niche markets. In addition to Ross, who is president, CEO and chief technical officer, former Genetech employees now at Arris are Chief Financial Officer Mark Hirsch and Stanford University professor Richard Lawn, PhD. Hirsch was VP of business development at Genentech from 1985-88 and subsequently was a partner at Mongtomery Medical Ventures, L.P. II until 1991. Lawn, a molecular biologist who is professor of cardiovascular medicine at Stanford, spent 10 years at Genentech and ultimately was the company's senior scientist.