Nerve-healing startup Renerva joins McGovern incubator

Renerva, a medical startup that is developing an injectable gel to speed the healing of damaged nerves and creating an off-the-shelf nerve-graft product that may spare patients life-long disability, has joined Cornell’s McGovern Center life sciences business incubator.

The company was formed concurrently at Cornell and the University of Pittsburgh.

“We’ve developed a novel way of manipulating nerve repair and improving the recovery of nerves,” said Jonathan Cheetham, associate professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine and chair of the company’s scientific advisory board.

“Other technology has focused on the late stages of nerve healing,” Cheetham said. “What we’re doing is trying to influence the early part of nerve healing that may lead to improved nerve function outcomes for patients down the road.”

Renerva’s first product, Peripheral Nerve Matrix, is an injectable hydrogel derived from porcine tissue that acts like a scaffold. It supports nerve-cell growth and tissue formation, said Bryan Brown, Renerva’s chief technology officer and an associate professor of bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh. He is a former Cornell postdoctoral researcher.

Millions of people in the U.S. suffer from peripheral nerve injuries or problems, and peripheral nerve regeneration is slow and not always complete, Brown said.

“Acute nerve injuries don’t heal well, so more than half of the patients have unsatisfactory outcomes,” he said. “This is a material that can be injected into the nerve – after a surgical repair – to speed and enhance the recovery, improve a patient’s quality of life and help them heal faster.”

Renerva’s second product, which could offer surgeons an “off-the-shelf” nerve graft that restores motor and sensory function, is in development. It could spare patients complications, discomfort and loss of function associated with nerve autografts, according to Lorenzo Soletti, Renerva’s president and chief executive officer.

“Renerva epitomizes the research nature of Cornell,” said Lou Walcer, director of the McGovern Center. “The company uses University research and technology, and it is extending that technology to help patients alleviate problems and pain. This is quite exciting.”

In 2018, the U.S. Department of Defense provided $2.4 million through a Medical Technology Enterprise Consortium award to Renerva to complete a preclinical program and begin human trials. Additionally, the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health awarded $500,000 to accelerate development of the company’s products.

Peripheral Nerve Matrix is expected to enter clinical trials this year.