Harnessing the natural potential of venom with the VOYAGER pipette

Venom – found in numerous species of reptiles, invertebrates, and even fish – can cause intense pain and even paralysis but, paradoxically, can be used as a medication to actually reduce pain. UK-based Venomtech® is harnessing the power of naturally-produced venoms from a collection of nearly 200 species of spiders, scorpions, and centipedes to generate compound libraries for drug discovery.

VOYAGER – Adjustable tip spacing electronic pipette

The team at Venomtech is using our VOYAGER adjustable tip spacing pipette to increase the production efficiency for their screening assays.

Each species has a unique venom containing several hundred different components. The library of compounds available to us using venom is therefore enormous – and we are only just scratching the surface. Our core product is our Targeted-Venom Discovery Array™ (T-VDA), which includes venoms from 12 species selected according to the target of interest. Each venom is fractionated by 2D HPLC, where two different chromatographic columns are connected in sequence to better resolve the individual fractions, before being standardized, plated out, and freeze-dried in 384 well plates to create the compound library.

Steve Trim, CSO of Venomtech

A wealth of potential applications

“Our expertise in drug discovery, which means that our primary markets are the pharmaceutical and biotech sectors – with some interest from academia – where venom-derived compounds are driving the discovery of new pain relief and oncology drugs,” Steve added.

“We’ve also been involved in antimicrobial and epigenetic studies, and during the recent lockdown, the team has even worked on SARS-CoV-2 interactions. However, we have a number of secondary markets, including the development of insecticides, and even cosmetic products. In recent years, we have developed a soothing biomimetic peptide called SensAmone P5, which calms sensitive skin and reduces irritation by blocking pain receptors. There is also a synthetic snake venom that is already used in Botox-type procedures, and there will be several more products coming out this year.

For these products, we need to understand the venom's activity and then make a synthetic version of it, to ensure that there are no animal products in the end cosmetic. For the pest control market, many spider venoms have evolved to kill insects, so this provides a good opportunity for use in biologically-derived insecticides that do not bioaccumulate in the soil, and only target pest insects, not pollinators.”

Efficient transfers with adjustable tip spacing

The Venomtech team uses the VOYAGER adjustable tip spacing pipettes in the production of its T-VDAs, enabling the accurate transfer of venom-derived stocks from storage to assay plates.

Steve explained why they chose INTEGRA: “The production process starts with 96 well stock plates, which we need to transfer to 384 well array plates, so the ability to electronically adjust the tip spacing one-handed was a major part of the decision to choose the VOYAGER. I've used a number of different brands of pipettes in my previous work, but the VOYAGER simply stood out in side-by-side comparisons in terms of the sheer ability of the instrument, as well as the service and interactions with INTEGRA. Its precision, lightweight and quiet motor-drive were definitely key features, and it’s now the only brand of electronic or multichannel pipette that we have. The repeat dispensing function is really important for our workflow, as it means you are not going backward and forwards to your reservoir each time – making the process much faster – while the serial dilution function is perfect for creating standards with different concentrations. The combination of the VOYAGER and the GripTips ensure a perfect fit with no risk of loose tips, which gives us confidence that we are pipetting the correct volumes of stocks and standards, every time.”

An affordable pipetting platform to support growth and R&D

In addition to the routine work of serial dilutions and reformatting of liquids into different size plates, the Venomtech team uses the VOYAGER for all their R&D and QC work.

As a small biotech company, when you're growing, you don't have the money for big robotic instruments, so the VOYAGER has been a serious workhorse for us. The way the VOYAGER communicates with you is very intuitive, even if you are not used to using an electronic pipette, and several visiting postgraduate students from nearby Christ Church University have been able to use it with minimal training.

For example, you don't need to look at the pipette while you’re working, but if you are disrupted halfway through filling a 384 well plate, it has a dispense counter, so you can see where you've got to. We are also really pleased with the INTEGRA service team. We bought our VOYAGER at least seven years ago, and it has only had to go off-site for servicing once, which is fantastic, especially considering how much use it gets.

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