Advanced computing in pharma: 3 reasons why quantum computing could disrupt the pharma R&D

Published on 30 August 2021 Read 25 min

The quantum computing technology uses quantum systems called “qubits”. They work with non-binary values, unlike classical computing which uses only bits with values of 0 or 1, and can overlap each other and act as a group. The result is of a much greater power than conventional computers and allows for faster decision making and calculations by taking into account several options simultaneously rather than taking them one after the other. Quantum computing could therefore solve calculations in a few seconds, where classical computers would take several years or even decades. Several industries are expected to benefit from quantum computing over the next few years, but the impact of quantum computing could be the greatest in the pharmaceutical industry and particularly for drug discovery. Alcimed gives you 3 reasons why quantum computing could disrupt R&D in pharma.

1. Quantum computing in pharma could reduce the costs of drug discovery and drug design stages

The time it takes to develop a drug, from discovery to launch, is a process based on very costly methods for pharmaceutical companies and is commonly estimated at more than 2 billion dollars for a drug, with success rates of less than 10% between entry into clinical development and launch of the new drug. The profitability of R&D investments is therefore currently based for pharma companies on a few successful drugs. Quantum computing in pharma could drastically reduce these costs, and potentially in the long run the price of drugs. By enabling accurate modeling of drug-target interactions and more efficient screening of very large virtual libraries, quantum computing in the pharmaceutical industry could reduce the need for expensive in vitro testing.

The development time of a drug, from discovery to launch, is more than 10 years. Because for new drugs as quantum computers can study very complex systems such as the human biological system and its reactions to drugs. The technology could also make it easier to use pre-approved drugs for new applications. Quantum computing for pharmaceuticals makes it possible to perform hundreds of millions of comparisons of complex molecules simultaneously: matches between molecules are examined, the positive effects of a new therapeutic approach can be predicted, as well as the negative effects. Design time and results are improved. In the future, it will be interesting to follow which therapeutic areas will benefit most rapidly from the quantum computing technology in the pharma industry.

Learn more about advanced computing in the pharma industry >

2. Quantum computing could facilitate the design of clinical trials

In silico clinical trials without any humans, could be a reality thanks to quantum computing in pharma R&D. Even if the technology is very far from being mature for this specific purpose today, quantum computing could participate in the building of virtual patients. It would allow for clinical trials designs with as many virtual patients as possible, with components chosen by the clinical trial sponsor. Quantum computing could potentially reduce the time of clinical trials, the number of sites and of “real” patients, and in the meantime increase their quality and completeness. The technology could potentially allow the inclusion of population types that are most often not included in clinical trials.

3. Quantum computing could foster the arrival of new players in pharmaceutical R&D

In order to make quantum computing technology a reality for pharmaceutical R&D, the development of suitable software and algorithms is necessary. Indeed, the software and algorithms of classical computing do not work in the same way. New players are therefore entering the market of quantum computing and specialize themselves on drug discovery. This is for example the case of Rahko, ProteinQure, GTN Ltd, Menten AI, etc. Long-established players in the IT market are also investing in the quantum computing market for pharma R&D, such as Google, IBM or Honeywell. Finally, new companies are entering the quantum computing market such as D-Wave, Rigetti, Xanadu Quantum Technologies.

All these companies could be potential partners for the pharmaceutical industry. It will be interesting to observe whether new players, originally outside the pharmaceutical industry, will be able to position themselves on the drug development market and how pharmaceutical companies will reorganize themselves in order to collaborate with these new players.

The quantum computing technology is expected to transform the early stages of pharmaceutical research and development in the coming decades, depending on how well companies will embrace it. The technology is still emerging but is slowly maturing to be commercialized, and appear to be very promising for the pharma R&D. The first companies to position themselves in this area could gain a significant advantage over their competitors in terms of skills, which are currently rare in quantum computing. And indeed, several large pharmaceutical companies are already positioning themselves on the topic. Biogen is working with 1QBit, a software company, and with Accenture Labs to develop an application aiming at accelerating drug discovery. Boehringer Ingelheim is the first pharmaceutical company to have entered a partnership  with Google Quantum AI in early 2021 to develop applications for simulating molecular dynamics. Roche is cooperating with Cambridge Quantum Computing, a quantum software company, to design R&D algorithms, notably for Alzheimer’s research. Alcimed closely follows the rapid developments in this field and is ready to accompany you on these topics, notably on your search for partners!

About the author,

Diane, Senior Consultant in Alcimed’s Healthcare team in Germany

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