(By Becky Bracken) The promise of quantum computing’s application to the development of medicines and treatments means supercharging the speed with which science will be able to create the next blockbuster drug.
And pharmaceutical and tech companies alike are ready to start investing.
Quantum computers, and their ability to make calculations billions of times faster than current computing technology, when applied to the development of medicines, could generate simulations of the human body with all its exponential variables, and allow scientists to identify a precise molecule with the precise properties to heal.
Of course, that scenario is still very much a theory.
Martin Strahm is the head of data science for Roche, and he cautions that while the possibilities of quantum computing in medicine are thrilling, there’s still no guarantee if, or when, it will happen.
“Everyone talks about quantum computers, and yet it is not clear whether we will ever be able to build quantum computers that are big enough to solve real world problems,” Strahm recently wrote. “To put it briefly, we are speculating about something and how it might change the world without the certainty that it will become reality.” But when you consider the private sector invests about $160 billion in pharmaceutical research and development annually, according to the Brookings Institution, the kinds of proposed cost and time savings quantum computing could provide is turning talk of quantum computing and medicine from sheerly theoretical to its potential impact on the bottom line.
Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan made headlines when he took the job in 2018, pledging to apply new technology to pharmaceutical research, including quantum computing. Fast-forward to 2021, and now a new partnership between Boehringer Ingelheim’s new Quantum Lab and Google’s Quantum AI division has committed to work for the next three years to develop quantum biopharma technologies.
“We are really excited about joining forces with Google, the leading tech company when it comes to quantum computing,” Michael Schmelmer, a member of Board of Managing Directors of Boehringer Ingelheim said about the deal. “Quantum computing has the potential to significantly accelerate and enhance R&D processes in our industry. Quantum computing is still very much an emerging technology. However, we are convinced that this technology could help us to provide even more humans and animals with innovative and groundbreaking medicines in the future.”
Ryan Babbush, who heads up Quantum Algorithms at Google explained the group’s work will focus on precise modelling of molecular systems and added it is “among the most natural and potential transformative applications of quantum computing.”
IBM, along with Google, is actively exploring the application of quantum computing in what they call, “precision medicine.”
“The goal of precision medicine is lofty,” IBM’s report on the use cases for quantum computing in medicine explained. “Identifying and explaining relationships among interventions and treatments on the one hand—and outcomes on the other— in order to provide the next-best medical action at the individual level.”
The report goes on to advocate for additional research and investment in quantum computing in medicine, suggesting IBM is getting in position to spend big in biopharma quantum computing.
“Quantum computing has the potential to become a transformative enabler for healthcare organizations in their core mission: sustainably saving and improving lives,” the report said. Thus, the time to get started with quantum computing is now.”