A group of experts from 12 large pharmaceutical firms indicate that quantum computing offers massive benefits to drug discovery in the long-term, but they don’t expect “unprecedented financial returns,” according to a recent study.
A team of researchers from Witten/Herdecke University collected from the experts to create a collective industry perspective on how innovative large pharmaceutical organization are approaching the dawn of quantum computing. The researchers reported their findings in Drug Discovery Today.
Quantum computing offers theoretical benefits of speeding up drug discovery and optimizing supply chains, among other advantages, the experts acknowledge. However, the experts’ consensus is that real benefits for the pharmaceutical industry are still about a decade away.
“The industry agrees that potential improvements or accelerations in the drug discovery process is a minimum of ten to 15 years away as this would require improvements in molecular simulations and quantum machine learning algorithms which require high computing resources and complex algorithms.6 However, certain optimization algorithms, e.g., to address the traveling salesman problem in supply chain operations 7, are expected to provide some return on investments within five years,” according to the study.
Two major risks confront the adoption of QC in the industry: technological risk and implementation risk. The experts do not see quantum supplanting current classical computers, particularly on the hardware level, and doubt that pharma companies will adopt QC overnight.
“Domain experts in most organizations question the ability of large pharmaceutical companies to adopt QC,” the researchers report.
Experts suggest that in order to speed up adoption of quantum computing, pharma companies need education, collaborations and use cases.
The team writes: “The activities includes internal abilities, such as an understanding of QC by computational scientists, biochemical and medical researchers, and management (education); the ability, knowledge and experience to deploy and make use of external resources like algorithm providers (collaboration); and a plan for problems QC should address (use cases).”
Another important factor will be a management and organization committed to institutionalize quantum.
“While education, collaborations and use case development have their individual success factors, domain leaders identify commitment of upper management, including the heads of R&D and operations, and eventually the executive board, as critical for institutionalizing QC,” the researchers write. “Notably, QC domain leaders recognize that such commitment does not necessarily equate financial investments. A genuine interest – even if sparked by hype 30 – including regular updates, a general QC understanding and awareness, and backing of the respective domain experts are rather crucial factors for expertise to establish and flourish.”
Three phases of quantum computer adoption are likely to happen in the pharmaceutical industry. Adoption and institutionalization of QC will be similar to the integration of AI in the pharmaceutical industry, the experts predict.
“There are immediate non-financial benefits in engaging with QC, some likely financial returns in the short term in drug development, manufacturing and supply chain, and potentially large scientific benefits in drug discovery long term,” the researchers write.
Researchers include Maximillian Zinner, Florian Dahlhausen, Philip Boehme, Jan Ehlers, Linn Bieske and Leonard Fehring.