Quantum computing has enormous potential in healthcare and has started to impact the industry in various ways.
For example, quantum computing offers the ability to track and diagnose disease. Using sensors, quantum technology has the ability to track the progress of cancer treatments and diagnose and monitor such degenerative diseases as multiple sclerosis.
Modernizing supply chains
The tech also can help modernize supply chains. Quantum technology can solve routing issues in real time using live data such as weather and traffic updates to help determine the most efficient method of delivery. This would have been particularly helpful during the pandemic since many states had issues with vaccine deliveries.
Elsewhere, quantum technology can impact early-stage drug discovery. Pharmaceuticals can take a decade or longer to bring to market. Quantum computing could lower the costs and reduce the time.
“In the simplest terms, quantum computing harnesses the mysterious properties of quantum mechanics to solve problems using individual atoms and subatomic particles,” explained Scott Buchholz, emerging technology research director and government and public services CTO at Deloitte Consulting. “Quantum computers can be thought of as akin to supercomputers.
“However, today’s supercomputers solve problems by performing trillions of math calculations very quickly to predict the weather, study air flow over wings, etc.,” he continued. “Quantum computers work very differently – they perform calculations all at once, limited by the number of qubits of information that they currently hold.”
Not well suited for all problems
Because of how differently they work, they aren’t well suited for all problems, but they’re a fit for certain types of problems, such as molecular simulation, optimization and machine learning.
“What’s important to note is that today’s most advanced quantum computers still aren’t especially powerful,” Buchholz noted.
“Many calculations they currently can do can be performed on a laptop computer. However, if quantum computers continue to scale exponentially – that is, the number of qubits they use for computation continues to double every year or so – they will become dramatically more powerful in years to come.
“Because quantum computers can simulate atoms and other molecules much better than classical computers, researchers are investigating the future feasibility of doing drug discovery, target protein matching, calculating protein folding and more,” he continued.
“That is, during the drug discovery process, they could be useful to dramatically reduce the time required to sort through existing databases of molecules to look for targets, identify potential new drugs with novel properties, identify potential new targets and more.”
Researchers also are investigating the possibility of simulating or optimizing manufacturing processes for molecules, which potentially could help make scaling up manufacturing easier over time. While these advances won’t eliminate the lengthy testing process, they may well accelerate the initial discovery process for interesting molecules.
Quantum computing diagnosing disease
“Quantum computing may also – directly and indirectly – lead to the ability to diagnose disease,” Buchholz said. “Given future machines’ ability to sort through complex problems quickly, they may be able to accelerate the processing of some of the techniques that are being developed today, say those that are designed to identify harmful genetic mutations or combinations.
“Indirectly, some of the materials that were investigated for quantum computers turned out to be better as sensors,” he added. “Researchers are investigating quantum-based technologies to make smaller, more sensitive, lower-power sensors. In the future, these sensors and exotic materials may be combined in clever ways to help with disease identification and diagnosis.”
Quantum computers will improve the ability to optimize logistics and routing, potentially easing bottlenecks in supply chains or identifying areas of improvement, Buchholz said.
Perhaps more interestingly, due to their ability to simulate molecular interactions, researchers are looking at their ability to optimize manufacturing processes to be quicker, use less energy and produce less waste, he added. That could lead to alternative manufacturing techniques that could simplify healthcare supply chains, he noted.
“Ultimately, the promise of quantum computers is to make some things faster – like optimization and machine learning – and make some things practical – like large scale molecular and process simulation,” he said.
“While the technology to solve the ‘at scale’ problems is still several years in the future, researchers currently are working hard today to put the foundations in place to tackle these problems as the hardware capacity of quantum computers advances.
“Should the hardware researchers achieve some of the sought after scalability breakthroughs, that promise could accelerate,” he concluded.