Healthcare is perhaps one of the most globally lucrative industries, as it takes more than 10% of the GDP of most developed countries. From developing new drugs to allocating patient care, there are many different areas within the healthcare industry that can significantly benefit from quantum computing. With large amounts of patient data and concerns about security and patient privacy, healthcare use cases can already be processed with the current developments in quantum computers. “Quantum annealing is solving problems that are optimization problems, things like supply chain optimization, finding better drugs, and of course, thinking about how to get into better clinical trials,” explained CEO and Founder of Polarisqb, Shahar Keinan. Polaris is one of the leading companies using quantum computing to optimize drug design, just one of the many subsectors featured within the healthcare industry.
Healthcare and Drugs
Drugs and drug design are just two factors within the healthcare industry that help with patient well-being. “We are really only now beginning to evaluate this,” Keinan added. “Because if you can design drugs that are going to be better, they are more efficient with fewer side effects, right? Safer drugs mean the rest of the drug development process is going to be faster and cheaper. And that means that your cost of medicine is going to go down, which means you can develop drugs for smaller patient populations.” With quantum technology being used in both chemical simulations and optimizations for drug development, this can significantly lower the production costs for these drugs. As Keinan stated, this frees up drug companies to pursue cures for more specific ailments. While current drug companies mainly target larger diseased populations, as there is a higher profit, quantum computing can reduce the constrain and allow for new drug research into other illnesses.
One specific way that quantum computing can assist in drug design is by studying protein folding. Not only would simulating and analyzing the folding process help with drug discovery, but it also has wider implications for other sub-industries like nutrition, oncology, and others. According to a recent article by Booz-Allen: “Using a quantum algorithm called a Variational Quantum Eigen-solver, it’s possible to produce a statistical representation of possible folds in an amino acid chain, with the result being a prediction for the protein configuration we would observe in nature.” Polaris takes this process one step further by looking at the potential toxicity of the molecules as they pass through the brain’s blood-brain barrier. “We are finding molecules that bind to the protein passing into the brain and are less toxic, in a single optimization, not in three different steps,” Keinan stated. “That’s how we make the timeline shorter.”
Quantum and Diagnosis
Beyond drug discovery, quantum computing can also help significantly with disease diagnosis. Already hospitals and clinics are using AI and machine learning to help detect possible diseases or tumors in patient test results and images. “So, everything dealing with machine learning has the potential to be speeded up with quantum, especially when it’s large quantities of data,” explained Amir Naveh, Co-Founder and Chief Product Officer (CPO) of Classiq Technologies, a market-leading quantum computing company. With AI making significant strides in accelerating disease detection, it seems that quantum computing, combined with AI, will create significant shifts in the healthcare industry. AI entrepreneur Gary Fowler elaborated on these predictions in a 2021 Forbes article, writing “Quantum computing will be another useful tool to find answers to diseases such as Parkinson’s, cancer, and other ailments that take so many lives each day.” As experts warn about the rising threats of undiagnosed diseases like colorectal cancer in younger generations, quantum computing can create an earlier warning system, making early screening easier and more accessible to a wider audience.
Quantum Computing and Patient Care in Healthcare Facilities
With viruses like COVID-19 overwhelming hospital systems, many experts are looking to quantum computing to deal with the bottlenecks of more patients than doctors or hospital beds. The time to fix these bottlenecks is more apparent than ever, as the World Health Organization (WHO) predicts that by 2030, there will be a deficit of almost 10 million health providers, including doctors and nurses. This bottleneck may only get worse if another global pandemic hits, creating a pressing need to use quantum technology to help solve those issues. Because many of these bottlenecks can be solved using optimization algorithms, quantum computing can help to create more efficient care processes, as well as better allocation of resources like medicine or hospital beds. “Quantum can help this whole domain,” Naveh added. “The actual care for patients, which is everything from being able to give optimal support for patients to be able to make sure there is fraud detection in these facilities.” With medical records containing sensitive patient information, quantum computing can provide an extra level of security via encryption processes. As quantum computing is being hailed as a threat to current levels of cybersecurity, it can help pave the way for newer levels of digital safety, especially for patient records and other types of sensitive information.
With its many different benefits, it is no surprise that quantum technology is already being applied to the healthcare industry and will continue to transform the industry in the future. As Fowler stated in an interview with Inside Quantum Technology, “The world has fundamentally changed for all of us. The use of quantum computers that are 100 million times faster than the fastest supercomputers will allow us to do what would take 10,000 years in 200 seconds. Imagine the possibility for drug discovery and other areas of health tech that impact our lives.”
Kenna Hughes-Castleberry is a staff writer at Inside Quantum Technology and the Science Communicator at JILA (a partnership between the University of Colorado Boulder and NIST). Her writing beats include deep tech, the metaverse, and quantum technology.