Startup Check-in: Swan NeuroTech

Pitt startup rebrands and hires CEO as it seeks funding for final pre-clinical studies for its medical devices to assist in regenerating damaged nerves.


Kacey Marra licensed the technology she had developed to help repair nerve injuries in 2019, shortly after revised University policy took effect allowing Pitt innovators to dedicate a day per week to commercializing their innovations.

“I block my calendar off on Fridays to work on my startup,” said Marra, professor in the Department of Plastic Surgery at the Pitt School of Medicine.

She has spent the intervening time developing a prototype for her device -- a flexible, biodegradable protective guide tube that can be stitched onto damaged nerves, particularly those spanning long gaps, to deliver growth factors and/or pain medication in an extended-release format to promote nerve regeneration and restore motor function.

She has also held initial conversations with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about the regulatory path for obtaining approval to market her innovation.

Recognizing that she had brought her innovation as far down the commercialization path as she can on her own, she recently hired experienced local life science startup executive, Jeremy Kimmel, to take the helm as CEO, while stepping into the role of Chief Scientific Officer.


Kacey Marra (left) and Jeremy Kimmel pictured in Kacey's lab. Jeremy is the new CEO of Swan NeuroTech.
Kacey Marra holds some of the prototypes of the flexible, biodegradable nerve guide tubes that she has developed to deliver therapeutics to repair injured nerves and restore motor function.

The company has also been re-named Swan NeuroTech and is now actively pursuing investors to secure the funding necessary to complete the additional pre-clinical safety studies for its devices required by the FDA in order to apply for approval to initiate a clinical trial.

"I first crossed paths with Kacey 15 years ago while a grad student at Pitt,” Kimmel said. “I spent 10 years at a local medical device startup with complex clinical and regulatory pathways. I’m very excited to be in a new startup to help take this great science from the lab and bring it into the world, beginning with bringing in capital to get us to first in human studies.”

Marra credits the Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship (OIE) for her progress. She began her commercialization journey in the NSF I-Corps program, where she interviewed 80 surgeons, stakeholders, and administrators from across the country to understand their unmet needs when it came to long-gap nerve repair. She has also been consulting routinely with OIE staff on managing the intellectual property arising from her research, as well as with the New Ventures team on establishing her company and developing and executing a commercialization plan.

“The help I have gotten from the Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship has been invaluable,” she said. “I wouldn’t be here without the people in that office who are always there when I need them.”

She also credits the Chair of the Department of Plastic Surgery, Peter Rubin, for encouraging her to pursue commercialization of her innovation and giving her the room to do so.

When asked why she is adding starting a company onto her already full plate as a researcher, teacher and mentor, she points to the impact she hopes her innovation might have on people’s lives, and for injured soldiers in particular.

“My dad was a Marine. My brother was in the Air Force. My grandfather was in the Army. I started going to military medicine conferences early in my career and have been inspired ever since to take the research I have been doing on nerve regeneration and translate the technology into people,” she said.

Marra’s research has been funded in large part by Department of Defense grants. In addition to combat wounds, her innovation can be applied to injuries from car accidents, stabbings or accidents in the home.

In the future, she and Kimmel plan to explore applications in diabetic neuropathy, reconstruction after cancer surgery and other plastic surgery procedures.

Because biodegradable nerve guides are already in use by surgeons, they’re anticipating a high rate of acceptance. Their differentiation with existing products is the technology licensed from Pitt to deliver time-released therapeutics with the devices at a cost that is similar to existing products.

“We are very excited for this next chapter in our development as we move closer to helping actual patients,” Marra said.


If you are a Pitt innovator ready to begin your commercialization journey, a great place to start is in an NSF I-Corps short course. You will evaluate your technology’s commercial potential by interviewing potential customers and stakeholders to identify their unmet needs and how your innovation can be developed to solve them.