Novel coronavirus outbreaks are demonstrating that humans must quickly identify avirus and minimize its impact before it becomes an epidemic.Because around the world today, viruses are spreading faster, farther and more frequently than ever before.
Professor Noor Shaker, a biotechnology entrepreneur, believes that once a quantum computing breakthrough is made, the development of a new vaccine or drug could be completed in a matter of days.
If novel coronavirus has taught us anything, it is that while our ability to identify and treat pandemics has greatly improved since the outbreak of the Spanish flu in 1918, there is still much room for improvement.
In the past few decades, human beings have made great progress in improving the ability of rapid detection. In just 12 days, the novel coronavirus external “spike” protein was developed using new technology.In the 1980s, a similar structural analysis of HIV took four years.
Professor Noor Shaker, a biotechnology entrepreneur, highlights a major problem in the current drug development process: the high reliance on experience.
When a molecule is made, it needs to be tested, and its effects cannot be accurately predicted in advance.The testing process itself is long, tedious, tedious, and may not be able to predict future complications until the molecules are deployed on a large scale, significantly reducing the cost-benefit ratio in drug development.While ai/machine learning tools have been developed and deployed to optimize certain processes, their effectiveness at mission-critical tasks in the process is limited.
Ideally, a good way to reduce time and cost would be to move the expensive and time-inefficient research and development and testing that humans are currently doing to a computer simulation.
Today humans already have access to databases of molecules, and if humans had unlimited computing power, they could simply scan those databases and calculate whether each molecule could be used for novel coronavirus treatments or vaccines.We simply feed these molecules into a simulated environment and sift through the chemical space to find a solution to the problem.
If we stick to traditional computers, we will never achieve this goal.Why are quantum computers so much better at simulating molecules than conventional computers?
Electrons diffuse through a molecule in a strongly correlated fashion, and the properties of each electron depend heavily on the properties of its neighbors.These quantum correlations (or entanglements) are at the heart of quantum theory, making it tricky to simulate electrons with classical computers.
Novel coronavirus “outriggers” contain thousands of atoms, making it impossible for a conventional computer to cope.The size of the proteins makes them difficult to accurately model using classical simulation methods, even on today’s most powerful supercomputers.
Although chemists and pharmaceutical companies use supercomputers to model molecules (though not as large as proteins), they now use very crude molecular models that fail to capture the full details of the simulations, leading to huge errors in estimates.
It may take decades to build a quantum computer big enough to simulate molecules the size of proteins, but when such a computer comes along, it will mean a radical change in the way the pharmaceutical and chemical industries operate.
Decades later, with the right technology, humans could transfer the entire process to computer simulations, allowing them to produce results at an astonishing rate.By the time a new epidemic emerges, scientists can identify and develop a potential vaccine or drug within days.
Achieving all of these dreams will require a sustained investment in the development of quantum computing as a technology.
As professor Shohini Ghose put it in his 2018 Ted talk: “light bulbs didn’t come about because candles were getting better.The light bulb is a different technology based on a deeper scientific understanding.Today’s computer is a miracle of modern technology and will be improved with the progress of human beings.However, no traditional computer can solve the problem of drug development.It requires a new technology better suited to the task — quantum computing.”