Why quantum computing in drug discovery needs to improve  

The Pistoia Alliance has released new results from a survey of 260 attendees from life science companies across the globe, finding that almost half classify their understanding of quantum computing (QC) technology at the beginner level (48%) only. This is followed by intermediate (29%), advanced (13%), and expert at 9%. These results show that despite significant information around the potential of QC, few life science organisations or individuals are able to apply the technology. 

Celia Merzbacher, Executive Director at QED-C, said: “Quantum computing promises to have an enormous impact on many industries, including life sciences. We are already seeing clear near-term applications and uses that can help to advance the industry. In the last year alone, quantum computing hardware and software advances have been made, and access to technology via the cloud continues to improve. As a result, the barriers to entry in quantum computing for life sciences are lower and the number of collaborations is on the rise. This recent shift is seen in the survey results, where limited access to QC infrastructure as a barrier has decreased compared to a year ago.” 

Broadly, the barriers to launching QC projects remain similar to 2020. The most cited barrier is a lack of understanding of QC and the inability to articulate valuable uses (35%), followed by lack of skills (29%), lack of access to QC infrastructure (15%), and cost (11%). The Pistoia Alliance QC Community of Interest (CoI), in partnership with QED-C and QuPharm, is addressing these challenges. The organisations are seeking to increase awareness in the C-suite and raise funds to develop use cases and technologies that create value for the life sciences sector, underlying the Alliance’s commitment to advancing emerging technology in life sciences. Pistoia Alliance member companies in the QC field that are also helping to drive forward innovation, include Cambridge Quantum Computing, Zapata Computing, Molecular Quantum Solutions, QunaSys, Qubit Pharmaceuticals, and QC Ware. 

A Senior Director of R&D IT from a top ten pharma company said: “Quantum computing is the next computational approach our organisation is looking to utilise. It will help us to remove constraints in drug discovery and solve large optimisation problems that have required too much time or computing power to previously progress”. 

The survey results also highlighted that more than a third (36%) of respondents believe QC will impact the biopharma industry within the next five years, and almost half (44%) believe it will have an impact in the next five-ten years. The predicted near-term impact has slightly increased compared to last year’s results, which found 30% believe it will have an impact in the next five years, 52% in the next five-ten years. With life science-specific use cases now emerging from QC companies and consortia, there are clear signs of rapid short-term development and adoption. For example, Menten AI has developed a drug discovery project to build proteins using D-Wave’s platform, as part of the Creative Destruction Lab’s Quantum bootcamp. 

“Quantum computing has the potential to revolutionise scientific problem-solving. Our global, collaborative network is perfectly placed to help the industry develop use cases and to de-risk investments in innovative technology. But the seismic shift it promises to deliver will not be possible if we can’t define the applications that gain buy-in from stakeholders and the C-suite,” commented John Wise, consultant for the Pistoia Alliance. “The Alliance brings together the expertise and skills needed to move adoption forward and we welcome interested parties to get involved in the discussions we are having about this transformational technology.” 

Image credit: Markus Spiske

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