Is quantum computing the future of drug discovery?

computer code

In this episode, we explore the synergy of quantum computing and drug discovery with the chief scientific officer and co-founder of Qubit Pharmaceuticals, Jean-Philip Piquemal.

Qubit Pharmaceuticals was founded in 2020 with the vision of co-developing, with pharmaceutical and biotech companies, new, more effective, and safer drugs. The company uses its Atlas platform to discover new drugs through simulation and molecular modeling.

The company uses a supercomputer, Gaia, created in collaboration with artificial intelligence provider Nvidia.

Piquemal said the company is a digital pharma, meaning it doesn’t have wet labs and instead uses computers to predict new drugs. By doing this, Piquemal said the company hopes to discover new drugs for various diseases more quickly.

What is the Atlas platform?

Piquemal said Atlas is the company’s computational platform that is capable of doing many different types of computation. 

“We don’t have a lab where people are doing some synthesis, but they are performing computation on their screens,” Piquemal said. 

“They can visualize the molecules. They can modify the molecules. And they can compute a lot of properties towards the idea that we will see in the computer the drug interacting with its target. So, it’s like a Swiss knife with hundreds of different methods and very strong computational capabilities to be able to handle the largest supercomputers.” 

Piquemal said the dilemma for pharma companies is that, while they find a lot of drugs, there may be difficulties synthesizing them, or the cost may be too high. They may show toxicity, or have side effects, but rarely is this known until the end of the process.

“We have a lot of candidates. But with the idea that probably 99.9% of initial ideas will be already validated as failures. So that’s exactly what we want to do. We want to fail as much as possible in the computer in order to not fail when we come to the real world.”

“This computational revolution will really unleash the power of pharma to help a lot more people.”

Jean-Philip Piquemal, Qubit Pharmaceuticals

What are digital twins?

A digital twin, according to Piquemal, is the idea that you will have a computational model that will be as good as the real object. 

“So, in pharma, usually what we are trying to digitalize as a twin is the target of the drug. And the target of a drug in pharma is a protein. A protein has a 3D structure that you can get from experiments. You need to find a drug and to find its location into this target,” Piquemal explained. 

“When you look at that in terms of surface, it’s a little bit like the surface of the Moon or the surface of a planet like Mars. There are a lot of different locations. And so the digital twin’s purpose is to reproduce that in the computer. You can explore the surface of this target to find the best location for the drug. That’s a tough problem, and that’s why you need a lot of computation to do this.”

What is the Quantum for Bio program?

The company recently partnered with Pasqal, a quantum computing company, and their project was chosen as one of 12 – alongside NASA and Harvard University – for the Quantum for Bio program, an offshoot of the Wellcome Trust, which aims to accelerate the use of quantum computing in drug discovery and healthcare by developing applications that will benefit from the arrival of quantum computers within three to five years.

Pasqal and Qubit Pharmaceuticals are the only French consortium to be awarded a prize in this global call for projects. Together with the Unitary Fund, they will receive $4.5 million of the total $40 million awarded. 

Learn more about quantum computing in drug discovery:  

To delve deeper into this subject, here are some articles to further explore related to this podcast: 

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