Read about AQBioSim, our biopharma molecular simulation division.
Developing new pharmaceutical drugs is a complex and time-consuming process. The resources needed often discourage the pursuit of medications to treat other, less common afflictions because of high cost. However, artificial intelligence (AI) paired with quantum technologies promises to transform and accelerate the entire drug discovery process, delivering numerous benefits for the pharmaceutical industry, doctors, and patients alike.
From discovery to clinical trials, developing a new drug can cost anywhere from $1.3B to $4B and can take 10 to 15 years. Of the thousands of promising compounds created in labs each year, few will make it to clinical trials. In the U.S. for example, only 12% of drugs that make it to clinical trials are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The difficulty of drug discovery lies in having to contend with a vast number of molecular combinations with a high probability of unforeseen toxicities, leading to a low probability of success. AI, in the form of machine learning (ML), has helped make the process more efficient; however, conventional approaches have several limitations, including uncertainty of the data and the inability to scale. Conventional ML cannot rapidly analyze millions of possible chemical permutations to generate promising compounds that result in new drug leads. Additionally, ML approaches rely on diverse and high-quality datasets to train from and therefore can lack the specialization required to bear upon novel approaches for difficult-to-treat illnesses. As such, drug discovery and testing are still predominantly performed in the lab – a slow, laborious and serial process.
Accelerating Drug Development
AI + Quantum (AQ) technologies are uniquely capable of providing insights into how compounds combine and interact with human receptors, and, therefore, how we can better develop drugs. Digitally modeling and simulating molecular structures and their behaviors could allow us to synthesize promising new compounds in a matter of days, not years. It could also improve testing of those compounds, allowing researchers to more accurately predict efficacy and contraindications, and therefore expedite the pathway to human trials. Questions that were previously only answerable through physical experimentation will be revealed through generative modeling and reinforcement learning. AQ technology has the potential to usher in a new era of efficacious medicine in which new cures are generated and optimized using in silico methods, only made possible by innovations in processing units in recent years.
While large-scale, error-corrected quantum computers are still years away from being commercially available, current solutions combine a variety of today’s most advanced computing approaches to create quantum simulations with an accuracy that was not previously possible. Soon, these simulations will become widely available on standard laptops through cloud platforms.
Beyond new drug discovery, such platforms will allow researchers to feed large quantities of data into ML algorithms to predict drug toxicity, providing key insights into potential adverse effects early in the drug development process and reducing the need for extensive animal and clinical testing. Iterative AI will also be able to automatically propose new molecular combinations, and potential alternative uses for approved drugs, and identify suitable patient populations for clinical trial optimization.
In addition to the promise of accelerated drug development, AQ technologies will: enable more precise medical imaging and diagnostics for more effective treatment; better protect intellectual property and proprietary or confidential data; and help improve preparedness and response times during public health emergencies.
For example, the inherent sensitivity of quantum sensors makes them ideal for medical imaging or diagnostic devices, enabling detection of even the slightest deviations in the magnetic fields surrounding the heart, brain, or other tissues. When AI is utilized to remove background “noise,” these devices can deliver medical insights and images that were previously unattainable.
Outside the realm of patient care, but equally important to the healthcare industry, organizations are strengthening cybersecurity to protect against quantum-related threats. Once large-scale, fault-tolerant quantum computers become available, they are expected to easily break the encryption algorithms the world currently uses to protect sensitive and proprietary data. In anticipation, independent hackers and nation-state adversaries have already begun stealing encrypted data to store until a powerful enough quantum computer becomes available to decrypt it. The impact to the healthcare industry cannot be overstated, ranging from billions of dollars in wasted R&D and lost profits to the exposure of confidential patient records. Fortunately, efforts are already underway to create new quantum-safe encryption standards that all enterprises – especially those in the healthcare industry – will need to implement.
AQ-Powered Predictions & Logistics
Similarly, the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated the need for rapid detection and response capabilities to prepare for and mitigate future global health crises. With enough data, AQ technologies could potentially anticipate future pandemics or other public health challenges such as the spread of new strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. AQ could also help forecast demand surges for medical materials, ingredients, and supplies, and route deliveries of these materials to where they are most needed.
The Case for a Global Cohort
Given the many substantial benefits AQ technologies could bring to the healthcare industry, there is a great opportunity for increased global collaboration among the academic, technology, pharmaceutical, and government sectors.
For example, in 2020, 17 companies came together to form QuPharm. In collaboration with the Pistoia Alliance, the Quantum Economic Development Consortium (funded by the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology), and Innovate UK’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF), QuPharm studies quantum technology applications for healthcare and includes a plan to build a quantum computer.
AQ technologies have broad and highly positive implications for the healthcare industry and promise to revolutionize patient care – from the creation of new drugs and therapies to ensuring they are available when and where they’re needed. However, many of these applications are highly specialized, complex and resource-intensive, so global, cross-disciplinary partnerships will be necessary if society is to fully realize the profound impact these groundbreaking technologies have to offer.