By 2022, the drug discovery market was valued at US$55.46 billion, and by 2032, that figure is expected to more than double to US$133.11 billion. This is a huge amount of money, but after events like covid-19 we now know that time is just as crucial in the drug discovery sector.
With the discovery of new drugs taking up to a decade, and the cost of development increasing, quantum computing could have a significant impact in this field. In terms of quantum use cases, the development of broad-spectrum antiviral medicine will see direct benefits. The pharmaceutical industry is becoming increasingly digital and aims to optimize and maintain processes throughout the development lifecycle to reduce time and resource costs, in line with the advent of new computational technologies.
What are the realistic quantum benefits for life sciences?
First, the discovery of drug compounds with quantum computers will take significantly less time than on a classical business computer, compressing research to generate quality leads from years to a few months or weeks.
A core business for pharmaceutical companies is the development of drugs that will treat or cure challenging diseases. Classical computers are limited in computing power, and predicting precise molecular behavior can take years to calculate correctly. Quantum computing can significantly reduce early drug discovery and optimize the development cycle, significantly reducing time to the clinic.
Quantum computing is ideally suited to optimize this process, with the main benefit of quantum computing being an increase in the precision of calculations beyond that of any classical computer. This means that the quality of compounds designed computationally will improve.
Additionally, in 2019, pharmaceutical companies spent over 15% of their revenue on R&D, and some even spent over 20%. The R&D process involves identifying specific molecules to optimize, and screening thousands of molecules and then testing them under controlled conditions, which can take years. Ensuring that the molecules involved are of better quality is therefore of the utmost importance.
Head of strategic alliances at Kvantify.
Drug discovery involves several steps, and the time and costs vary between each, but the average cost to bring a new drug to market is $1.3 billion. The potential to reduce costs is enormous. Yet, despite all this, only 10% of drugs ultimately pass the testing phase.
Quantum will be able to significantly boost drug discovery research and development, but optimizing clinical trials and minimizing the risk of costly failures will also reap benefits. During drug development, pharmaceutical companies sometimes use trial and error because the speed of doing this outweighs the cost of waiting for current classical calculations to occur. Quantum computers can much faster and more accurately generate predictive data, reducing time, eliminating guesswork, and thus reducing costs.
What are the obstacles?
Even so, while quantum computing is on the rise, there are still a number of obstacles preventing businesses from adopting quantum computing.
First, integrating quantum computers with the existing IT infrastructure is a complex task. Although more advanced, quantum computers are developed separately from classical computers, making integration more difficult.
Second is the lack of talent. Many companies do not have the expertise to integrate the technology into their workflows, making quantum adoption much more difficult. Talent is limited in the quantum space, and the supply chain is too narrow to meet demand. Once talent is on board, it can take years to develop an understanding of quantum in the business, making early adoption that much more crucial.
Finally, quantum computing is currently in the developmental stages, and quantum hardware is subject to noise and error, making algorithms unwieldy for current and near-future devices. The development of new methods and algorithms that take current noise and errors into account will help to reduce measurement costs.
When to invest in quantum computers?
Quantum computers are still in their early stages and there are hurdles and barriers to business use, but that’s not stopping companies from investing. Quantum is expected to see operating revenue of up to $850 billion by 2050, and will be a major opportunity for drug discovery, financial market pricing, and AI and ML.
The life sciences sector is one of the industries likely to see early quantum effect and record investment. While it may take years to attract and train talent, the long-term benefits will pay off with top sectors potentially worth $1.3 trillion by 2035.
With this in mind, it is important for companies to invest in quant as early as possible. Getting past obstacles like recruiting relevant talent and integrating systems takes time. Taking action now will give early adopters a head start in tackling these complex issues.
In addition, quantum research is constantly evolving and showing many long-term benefits in the life science sector. For example, quantum algorithms such as Quantify’s FAST-VQE, which is designed to perform complex chemistry and find the energy in a chemical system, are already being developed today and show great promise for the future.
Overall, it’s important for companies to start investing in being quantum ready now so that we don’t experience a gap between solutions being ready and companies not being able to take advantage. Also, it’s worth noting that there are quant companies out there that are business-first and can help businesses that lack resources or talent.
Early investments in talent and infrastructure will yield significant returns, including revenue gains/savings and time savings, as quantum computing is further developed, widening the gap between quantum users and classical computing companies. With investment on the rise, particularly in the life sciences and drug discovery sectors, it is more important than ever for companies to invest to prevent falling behind the competition, or even get ahead.
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