Pistoia Alliance Gauges Life Sciences’ Quantum Computing Outlook

October 6, 2021

By Bio-IT World Staff 

October 6, 2021 | The Pistoia Alliance surveyed life sciences professionals this summer to gauge their understanding of quantum computing. They found that almost half classify their understanding of quantum computing (QC) technology at beginner level (48%) only. This is followed by intermediate (29%), advanced (13%) and expert at less than ten percent (9%). These results, the Alliance argues, show that despite significant noise around the potential of QC, few life science organizations or individuals are yet able to apply the technology.  

This survey was conducted via a Pistoia Alliance webinar in July 2021, with 260 attendees from life science companies across the globe. The Pistoia Alliance QC Community of Interest (CoI), in partnership with QED-C and QuPharm, is working to address barriers to QC adoption in the life sciences. The organizations are seeking to increase awareness in the C-suite and raise funds to develop use cases and technologies that create value for the life sciences sector, underlying the Alliance’s commitment to advancing emerging technology in life sciences. Pistoia Alliance member companies in the QC field that are also helping to drive forward innovation, include Cambridge Quantum Computing, Zapata Computing, Molecular Quantum Solutions, QunaSys, Qubit Pharmaceuticals and QC Ware. 

“Quantum computing promises to have an enormous impact on many industries, including life sciences. We are already seeing clear near-term applications and uses that can help to advance the industry,” commented Celia Merzbacher, Executive Director at QED-C in a press release. “In the last year alone, quantum computing hardware and software advances have been made, and access to technology via the cloud continues to improve. As a result, the barriers to entry in quantum computing for life sciences are lower and the number of collaborations are on the rise. This recent shift is seen in the survey results, where limited access to QC infrastructure as a barrier has decreased compared to a year ago.” 

Broadly, the barriers to launching QC projects remain similar to 2020 according to the 2021 survey. The most cited barrier is a lack of understanding of QC and the inability to articulate valuable uses (35%), followed by lack of skills (29%), lack of access to QC infrastructure (15%), and cost (11%). The survey results also highlighted that more than a third (36%) of respondents believe QC will impact the biopharma industry within the next five years, and almost half (44%) believe it will have an impact in the next five-ten years. The predicted near-term impact has slightly increased compared to last year’s results, which found 30% believe it will have an impact in the next five years, 52% in the next five-ten years. 

In an anonymous comment, one senior director of pharma R&D IT said: “Quantum computing is the next computational approach our organization is looking to utilize. It will help us to remove constraints in drug discovery and solve large optimization problems that have required too much time or computing power to previously progress.” 

With life science specific use cases now emerging from QC companies and consortia, the Alliance believes. The QC Community of Interest highlighted signs of rapid short-term development and adoption. For example, Menten AI has developed a drug discovery project to build proteins using D-Wave’s platform, as part of the Creative Destruction Lab’s Quantum bootcamp. 

“Quantum computing has the potential to revolutionize scientific problem solving. Our global, collaborative network is perfectly placed to help the industry develop use cases and to de-risk investments in innovative technology. But the seismic shift it promises to deliver will not be possible if we can’t define the applications that gain buy-in from stakeholders and the C-suite," commented John Wise, consultant for the Pistoia Alliance, in the same statement. “The Alliance brings together the expertise and skills needed to move adoption forward and we welcome interested parties to get involved in the discussions we are having about this transformational technology.”