Monday, 2 december 2019 | Redacción CEU
We have become accustomed to labeling many of the technological advances of the current century as "disruptive". You just have to take a look at the latest headlines on blockchain technology, machine learning or self-driving cars. Up to a point, the frequent use of the term reveals a significant change in our society: we have gone from moving in small steps to taking great strides, by often moving in the opposite direction or, as this word defines, by breaking with all done before. Tech companies and scientific researchers constantly surprise us with the announcement of new and original services that we will soon enjoy. Consequently, expectations are high; so much that, sometimes, it is difficult to assess the real impact of the development of a new technology in a specific industry. This is the case, for example, of quantum supremacy in the pharma industry. What does the announcement of the achievement of quantum supremacy mean for the sector?
Last month, Google announced the achievement of a historic milestone in the scientific journal Nature: the demonstration of quantum supremacy. With this empirical test, the company of Mountain View wanted to show that it had won the race in which firms such as Intel, Microsoft and IBM have been participating for years. Indeed, the announcement did not go unnoticed for these competitors.
In 2012, John Preskill, an American theoretical physicist, introduced the term of quantum supremacy. This concept refers to the barrier that quantum computers cross when they are capable of performing unmanageable tasks for classic computers. In the document published by the journal Nature, Google states that it has managed to achieve this long-awaited milestone. The firm claims that its 53-qubic quantum processor called Sycamore has calculated in 200 seconds an operation that IBM’s Summit, which is the most powerful computer known, would calculate in 10,000 years. In other words, a period of time that, due to its extension, would be impossible to manage.
IBM has shared a statement in which it recognizes that this is an excellent demonstration of the progress in superconducting-based quantum computing, but in which it also refutes Google’s achievement. The company argues that its competitor has not considered all the options. The American multinational explains that its Summit computer is capable of performing the same task in two and a half days, that is, in a period of time that is feasible for a classic computer.
The debate is still open. Arguments can be found both for and against this achievement. Regardless of its magnitude, any progress of this technology is great news for fields such as machine learning, optimization logistics or materials science. One sector that may also be greatly benefited by the development of quantum computing is that of the pharmaceutical industry. Why? What do two areas that a priori seem so different have in common?
When developing medications, many variables need to be taken into account. The professionals who are working in this field must check the different effects that a product can have on a condition or disease. Therefore, this is a long and complex process. The use of quantum computing in pharmaceutical research may contribute significantly to reducing these times. This technology makes it possible to accelerate the process of drug development, since multiple variables can be calculated simultaneously.
The unique calculation characteristics of quantum computing may be especially useful in fields such as the prediction of chemical properties and the simulation of molecular interaction. In fact, they may not only be beneficial in relation to saving time, but also money. The pharmaceutical industry invests millions of euros in clinical trials. With the development of this technology, the costs of these processes might be significantly reduced. Thanks to this, the industry would have more capacity to invest in research and, consequently, in the discovery of new drugs.´
Nowadays, one of the great challenges of the pharmaceutical industry is customization. Patients-consumers are more active than ever: they control their health by means of new technological devices, they use the Internet to search for information about their condition or diseases, they are well prepared, ... All this is reflected in a growing demand for the care based on individual experience. The development of quantum computing may open up a door to the creation of customized solutions; on the basis that a drug that does not work for a majority of people might be effective for only one person.
While it is true that this technology may serve as a boost for the pharmaceutical industry, it is also true that a certain caution should always be exercised. The discussion about the achievement or non-achievement of the milestone of quantum supremacy shows that we are still in an initial phase of what this technology promises to be. This seems to be the beginning of a new race whose goal is the full development of quantum computing. On the other hand, it should be noted that this is just one of the many technologies that may influence the future of the pharmaceutical industry.
The professionals of this industry should be able to identify and take advantage of the opportunities that the new global, digital and changing environment offers. That is one of the reasons that has led The CEU IAM Business School to designing a program aimed at those leaders who will have to take charge of the sector. Our Pharma & Biotec MDP offers a program based on the training and development of the professionals of the industry who have a high potential. Do not hesitate to contact us if you consider that you are one of them.