(HealthcareDive) Quantum computing is a highly touted but abstract branch of engineering with the potential to transform the healthcare industry that has yet to be fully leveraged in real-world applications.
Quantum computers, which are exponentially faster and more capable than classical ones, hold promise to reshape the entire industry, with proponents suggesting they could save the system hundreds of billions of dollars while improving patient care.
Near-term uses run the gamut from streamlining clinical trials to optimizing back-end functions for payers and providers, and could start being used in practice as early as the next few years, experts say.
Earlier this year, academic medical giant Cleveland Clinic inked a decadelong partnership with IBM in which the computing giant provides two quantum computers, engineers and training for the clinic’s new research center studying genomics, emerging pathogens, virus-related diseases and public health threats.
Quantum computers are adept at running simulations, especially those requiring large combinations of different variables. This ability makes them broadly applicable in the healthcare and pharmaceutical spaces.
In the near future, for pharmaceuticals, quantum could be applied to improve patient selection and design in clinical trials, more quickly generate new molecules with a desired set of biological properties, better predict drug response and speed a drug’s time to market, even for various diseases that can’t be treated yet, some experts say.
Clinical trials are one key area where quantum-enabled algorithms may have the biggest impact. Estimates vary, but it can take 10 years and billions of dollars to complete the process from drug discovery to commercialization.
That’s one key area where quantum could be leveraged earlier, as drugmakers have reams of data from trials that have already been completed. A handful of companies are already using quantum technologies for drug discovery and development, many in partnership with quantum manufacturers like IBM and Google or pharmaceutical giants like GlaxoSmithKline or Pfizer.
Similarly, quantum could optimize functions in healthcare administration for both payers and providers, in areas like patient matching and scheduling, assigning patients to beds, cutting down on unnecessary diagnostic testing, optimizing time on an MRI machine and imaging.
Eventually, some say quantum technology could be used to design a drug without having to test it on any animals or patients, though developers are wary of putting a timeline on such futuristic applications