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Rise of the machines: Novo Nordisk pledges $200M to create first quantum computer for life sciences

September 25, 2022
Life sciences

Big Pharma has long seen the potential for AI and machine learning to accelerate drug development. But Novo Nordisk is going a step further by channeling $200 million toward the creation of a computer that will outrun anything in existence.

The Novo Nordisk Foundation Quantum Computing Programme, which is launching in collaboration with the University of Copenhagen, will draw upon the expertise of world-leading researchers from Denmark, Canada, the Netherlands and the U.S. to deliver a quantum computer that can solve tasks beyond the ability of current computers.

The theory is that a quantum computer will very rapidly perform calculations that the current crop of cutting-edge computers either can’t do or would take years to complete. For Novo Nordisk’s purposes, these calculations would involve processing the huge quantity of data about the human genome and disease to accelerate the development of personalized medicines. The company also suggested the technology could be used to provide fresh insights into “climate change and the green transition.”

We’re unlikely to see Novo Nordisk’s supercomputer in action for a few years yet, as the company acknowledged that “challenges persist in developing a fully scaled, fault-tolerant, generally applicable quantum computer.” Based on the theory of quantum mechanics, these aren’t the sort of computers that you can put on your desk or use to check your email. Instead, they must be located in data centers and are allocated very specific tasks.

For this reason, the program will initially focus on developing the necessary hardware, materials and algorithms. The first seven years of the 12-year collaboration will see researchers and engineers developing this hardware and these materials, which will be supplied by a new company called Quantum Foundry P/S, set up with some of the funds Novo Nordisk is making available.

The remainder of the time will be spent scaling the selected platform up to a size that is usable for university and industry researchers in addition to solving the problems identified by Novo Nordisk.

“Quantum technologies will be key in the advent of personalized medicine by allowing the analysis of immense genomic data sets, as well as adding clarity to the complex interactions of the human microbiome or by accelerating drug discovery and development of new medicines,” the Danish Big Pharma said in a Sept. 21 release. “The ambition is that a quantum computer will also be a fundamental tool in designing new sustainable materials, delivering new energy-saving solutions or assisting with new approaches to decarbonization.”

By James Waldron


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