Venomtech is a great example of the innovative and collaborative approach to business that continues to bring global attention and success to the life science sector across Kent and Medway.
Steve Trim, the company’s founder and Managing Director has found the county the perfect place to grow his company over the past decade supported by both a talented team and world-class laboratory facilities at Discovery Park science park in Sandwich.
It all started with an idea. Steve had worked as a geneticist and pharmacologist for Pfizer at Sandwich, searching for novel compounds that might aid the search for new drugs and medicines.
Fascination with the potential of the properties of venom in pain relief resulted in him setting up his new biotech company to explore the potential of this area of science for drug discovery.
“The idea for Venomtech came from actually understanding the pharmacology,” Steve explains.
“Venoms are really complex mixtures. They’re like crude oil with a hundred different components within each.
“Some of these components have evolved for killing prey and deterring predators, but with others their purpose is less well known and what we’re finding is several of these are really useful in drug discovery.”
Over the past decade, the company has built up a compound library of venoms from approximately 200 species of venomous animals, accessible to researchers around the world.
That has meant the need for a bigger team as demand has grown, with four permanent staff, with two non-execs on the board of directors and additional support through collaborating with the onsite Industry Liaison Laboratory run by Canterbury Christ Church University (CCCU).
“We have a constant stream of volunteers, mostly from CCCU, but also from international universities with students coming here to do their final year projects. They’re getting good training, and supporting our work exploring venom science.”
That work – being conducted by one of Venomtech’s PhD students – includes the discovery of venom components that are active in killing pancreatic cancer cells, but less toxic to non-cancerous cells. This is, as Steve explains, just the tip of the iceberg.
“We’ve found that venoms contain antimicrobial peptides so that these might be the new antibiotics. We’re also looking into venoms as pesticides, which is something there is also a global need for.
“The main difference our venom library makes to drug discovery is that it enables customers whose projects have stalled because they’ve been unable to find usable compounds, to actually kickstart and move these forward.”
Venomtech have benefitted not only from the high standards of science facilities at Discovery Park and having access to the community of other life science, education and business support services available on site but also the broader success of Kent as a life science location.
“When we came to Discovery Park, we immediately had a big step forward, with a ready-made community of people. That was really helpful as well as the really good facilities.
“We have a very strong collaboration with CCCU, where some years we’ve had as many as 10 undergraduate students doing their final year projects. That has helped us to push our science forward and generate more data than we could do on our own, as well as being beneficial for the students.
“Being based in East Kent means we’re really close to the high-speed rail networks into London and also the continent. I can just nip on the Eurostar and meet customers for lunch, catch up and come back with minimal time efforts.
“I’m very excited with the future of life sciences in Kent. I’ve seen Discovery Park grow massively over the four or five years we’ve been here, but we’ve also got Kent Science Park, academic centres in Medway and a medical campus coming in Maidstone.
“Kent is a great location. You’ve got a strong network of scientists. Being in this part of Kent has given us great access to a talent pool. There are several universities, but also high-speed links.
“As a global company, we’ve already shipped to Australia, North America, Japan as well as several European customers. We need those transport links to get our product out to our customer.
“The future of life sciences in Kent is growing fast. It’s a very exciting time.”