Quantum Computing in drug discovery receives £6.85 million boost

Innovate UK grant awarded for development of quantum computing in cancer treatment

Medicines Discovery Catapult (MDC) is part of a consortium, led by Digital Quantum Computing company SEEQC, to secure £6.85million funding for a potentially game-changing project to utilise quantum computing in drug discovery for the treatment of cancer.

The grant, awarded via Innovate UK’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, will accelerate the use of quantum computing within pharmaceutical research to dramatically reduce the time required for drug development on a global scale.

This project is focused on developing high-value simulation tools to support photodynamic therapies for cancer treatment. Today, useful simulations of photosensitising drugs are not possible with classical computing power alone. SEEQC’s project will develop an application-specific quantum computer designed to simulate the most classically challenging tasks within this research.

SEEQC will lead the consortium of quantum computing partners for the ISCF QuPharma project with MDC working alongside the project partners including Riverlane, Oxford Instruments, the University of Oxford, and members from the Science and Technology Facilities Council, including the UK’s National Quantum Computing Centre.

Quantum computing is a fundamentally different computing approach based on the laws of quantum mechanics, which allows certain computations to be performed far more quickly and efficiently than traditional computing does.

While classical machine-learning technologies are already starting to show great promise in reducing both time and cost of getting drugs to patients, quantum processing has the potential to disrupt pre-clinical drug discovery by supercharging the R&D process and making more accurate predictions as to the efficacy of therapeutics.

At present it is not possible to develop simulations for photosensitising drugs with traditional computing methods, however, a quantum computer can harness the power of quantum mechanics to overcome this issue and make a leap forward for cancer treatment.

MDC, along with the team at the University of Oxford will be working extensively with the drug discovery community to help build a more detailed understanding of where the bottlenecks, complexities, and challenges in the medicines discovery pipeline exist. Alongside the project partners, MDC will examine the potential applications of quantum computing to help mitigate these challenges, offering support to develop the solutions.

Dr Rafael Jiminez, Head of Bioinformatics at MDC, said:

“Quantum computing presents an exciting frontier for drug discovery and this project enables MDC as part of the Consortium led by SEEQC, working alongside our partners, to be at the very forefront of this innovative technology.

“This collaboration will unlock the ability to create ever more complex simulations, accelerating the process of research and development to a level never before possible, and could have a transformative impact on our ability to treat diseases like cancer.”

Matthew Hutchings, Co-founder, and CPO of SEEQC, said:

“Today, drug discovery is a labour and time-intensive iterative process with immense costs. Thanks to our world-leading partners and the invaluable commercial benchmarking by our end-customers at Merck, we have the opportunity to develop a quantum computing platform that can radically improve the efficiency of drug development”.

Funding for the project was secured from Innovate UK’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, which was established to transform existing industries and create new ones, through collaboration between industry and researchers, to address big challenges to the benefit of society and the UK economy