Quantum (computing) gains

Drug discovery expected to be one of the first beneficiaries of technology

Ilene Schneider
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BOSTON—In a survey done by the Pistoia Alliance, the Quantum Economic Development Consortium (QED-C) and QuPharm, it was revealed that almost one-third (31 percent) of life-science organizations are ready to begin quantum computing evaluation—the use of quantum-mechanical phenomena to perform computation—this year. An additional 39 percent are preparing to evaluate next year or have quantum computing on their minds, while 30 percent are not currently evaluating this technology.
The survey also indicated that more than four out of five respondents (82 percent) believe quantum computing will impact the industry within the next decade. The same percentage of respondents believes that discovery and development will be the first beneficiaries of quantum computing usage in the biopharmaceutical industry. According to the respondents, the potential barriers to quantum computing include a shortage of skills and a lack of access to quantum computing infrastructure (both cited by 28 percent of respondents), as well as the need for clearly defined use cases (31 percent).
The research survey was conducted at the Community of Interest’s inaugural webinar in June 2020. More than 240 attendees from life-science and quantum computing organizations across the United States and Europe participated in the webinar.
In an effort to explore the opportunities for quantum computing to boost the efficiency and effectiveness of biopharma R&D, the aforementioned trio of organizations have collaborated to establish a cross-industry Community of Interest (CoI). Its mission is to support companies that need help navigating the route to quantum computing, and to simplify collaboration between stakeholders, develop new ideas for quantum computing projects, and assist interested parties in defining and articulating potential use cases.
According to John Wise, a member of the Pistoia Alliance Operations Team supporting the new quantum computing CoI, quantum computing (QC) has the potential to significantly accelerate new discoveries in life sciences. As he explained, “It promises to transform drug research by enabling breakthrough insights into complex drug/receptor interactions. QC could help biopharma companies deliver new molecules and therapies to market faster by streamlining the costly and time-consuming discovery processes by enabling quantum energy calculations for molecules and their pharmacological effects. Another area in which QC could have a profound impact is precision medicine and providing new insights into all the interplays between all the ‘omics,’ through the rapid calculation of multiple probabilities and outcomes.”
Wise said that the CoI will help the industry jointly to define commercially feasible use cases for the deployment of QC to demonstrate clearly the business benefits and associated return on investment. The work undertaken by the CoI will be led by those companies who invest in the CoI and will look to create proof of concept for specific use cases. The Pistoia Alliance has come to understand the utility of CoIs, of which it has developed several, because the work of CoIs often leads to actionable project ideas.
“The CoI helps to lower the risks for life-science companies undertaking QC research, as the costs and knowledge will be shared through this pre-competitive collaboration,” Wise added.
The CoI evolved as the Pistoia Alliance, QED-C and QuPharm saw that much more could be completed to advance the use of QC in life sciences through pre-competitive collaboration and pooling of resources. Each organization brings complementary skills and experiences to help advance adoption of QC and encourage hardware and software development. All three parties will work together to help educate organizations looking to maximize the potential of quantum computing and advance its adoption in life sciences and healthcare.
According to Wise, “We also wanted to ensure that some of our smaller members of the Pistoia Alliance who are not equipped to explore this field alone are not left behind. The CoI makes it possible for all companies to realize the benefits of QC and address the challenges collaboratively.”
He concluded, “The shared-risk, shared-reward advantages of pre-competitive collaboration are an ideal way for companies to explore the opportunities and challenges of quantum computing. Those organizations that do not begin to evaluate quantum computing now are at risk of being left behind once its value is realized. Those that are equipped to adopt the technology when it matures will be significantly ahead.”

Ilene Schneider

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