Quantum Computing for Pharma with Johnson & Johnson

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In an interview from Pasqal Thoughts 2024, Herman Van Vlijmen, a leading figure at Johnson & Johnson, examined the transformative potential of quantum computing in the pharmaceutical industry. As quantum computing evolves, its application in pharmaceuticals is poised to revolutionize various processes from drug discovery to optimization problems across different domains within the industry.

Van Vlijmen began by giving prominence to the immediate potential of quantum computing in tackling optimization problems.

“The most important thing right now, I think, is an optimization problem,” he stated. These problems are pervasive in the pharmaceutical industry and can be addressed with current quantum computing capabilities. “Optimization problems are really something that we can do today,” he added, indicating the immediate applicability of quantum solutions.

He also discussed the broader scope of optimization issues within the industry, saying: “In the pharmaceutical industry, we’re dealing with molecules that are quantum entities.” This quantum nature of molecules suggests that, in the future, quantum computing could offer direct advantages in predicting quantum properties of molecules. However, for now, the focus remains on large-scale optimization tasks.

Van Vlijmen dwelled on the various areas within the pharmaceutical sector where optimization is critical.

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“Optimization problems are everywhere,” he said. “They are also in clinical trials, they are in logistics, they are in sales.” This wide applicability underscores the significance of quantum computing in enhancing efficiency across different stages of pharmaceutical operations.

In collaboration with Pasqal, Johnson & Johnson is working to demonstrate the practical benefits of quantum computing.

“What we’re trying to do in our work with Pasqal is to show that quantum computing can really provide a solution for a problem,” Van Vlijmen explained. While the current scale of problems being tackled is relatively small, he is optimistic about the future. “The scale is rapidly increasing,” he went on, predicting that larger, more complex problems will soon be within reach of quantum solutions.

The transition from classical to quantum computing is a key theme in Van Vlijmen’s vision for the future.

“Today, we can solve it with classical computing, but in a few years this will not be the case anymore,” he asserted, while pointing out the limitations of classical computing in terms of time and energy efficiency and suggesting that quantum computing will become essential as the complexity of problems increases.

Van Vlijmen concluded with a look at the future requirements for quantum computing in pharmaceuticals.

“If we want to apply this to a real large-scale problem, that will be there in a couple of years,” he stated. Achieving this will depend on the advancement of quantum hardware capable of handling these complex tasks. “It will require having the hardware to solve this,” he added, underscoring the ongoing need for technological development in the quantum computing field.

Van Vlijmen’s views, then, define the exciting future of quantum computing in the pharmaceutical industry. From optimization applications to the potential in store for predicting molecular properties, the sector is set to play a crucial role in various aspects of pharmaceutical research and operations.

James Dargan

James Dargan is a writer and researcher at The Quantum Insider. His focus is on the QC startup ecosystem and he writes articles on the space that have a tone accessible to the average reader.

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