Throughout history, humans have managed to circumvent long and tedious processes. Henry Ford’s moving assembly line was a quantum leap in manufacturing, so to speak. And in the age of digital advancements, it is no different. The latest concept proposed is quantum computing (QC) based on quantum physics. In layperson’s terms, this type of computing uses a hybrid algorithm in which classical computers handle most calculations, and quantum processors take over when the task becomes too challenging. And while this technology is yet to reach maturity, its future contributions seem very promising across all fields where it is applicable, including the telecommunications industry. Quantum computing in medicine is also promising as it might, at the very least, shave years off when it comes to drug development timelines. Let’s see what it might do!
While researchers are already integrating artificial intelligence into medicine, it is far from enough. Quantum computing in medicine will significantly impact the discovery and development of new drugs in the not-too-distant future. But before we continue, let’s talk about the conventional drug development protocol.
The FDA’s Drug Development Process
There are five steps to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) process. First, the scientists go through a drug’s discovery and subsequent development. Researchers would pour years into the discovery through several means, including new insights into a disease process, molecular compounds test, etc. Once the algorithm has identified the compound, the scientists have to figure out its properties:
- Side effects
Then comes the next step: the preclinical research. The researchers have to figure out the toxicity of the compound either in vitro (i.e., in a test tube) or in vivo (i.e., on animals; while abiding by the good laboratory practices (GPL)) testing. Afterwards, the compound moves to clinical research. This research includes studies or trials done on people to determine actual interactions with the human body. After the the research gets the clearance, the researchers submit it for FDA drug review. If approved, the drug is then subjected to post-market drug safety monitoring.
As you can imagine, this is a long and tedious process. While there is no set time for a drug to reach the market, the average length is around 10 to 15 years.
Drugs and Quantum Computing
QC has two crucial characteristics: superposition (enabling the calculation of two problems simultaneously) and entanglement (exponentially increasing the number of calculations performed). So, these computers process more data faster than conventional computers as they solve problems probabilistically. In contrast, classical computers would take several years or more to solve them. They consider many different options simultaneously rather than sequentially.
But Why Drugs, of All Things?
Molecules are quantum systems based on quantum physics. Therefore, it should be possible for quantum computers to predict and simulate molecular structure, properties, and behaviors, including atomic-scale interactions, more accurately. Simulating more complex molecules will be possible as quantum computing technology develops and stable computers with many more qubits are realized.
In Silico Clinical Trials
Good News for the animal rights activists! Through QC, there is potential to switch drug development to in silico clinical trials. These trials wouldn’t require humans, animals, or even living cells, for that matter. Instead, it could all be done through an individualized computer simulation. Quantum computing in medicine could significantly advance the creation of “virtual humans.” It could even enable “live” clinical trials with as many computer-generated patients as possible and elements tailored to the preferences of the testers. The benefits here are three folds: less time needed to put the drug out on the market, more accurate results, and less animal testing.
DNA: The Code Embedded in Humans
What we know today about what makes us us, i.e., genetics and genome took about 15 years to come to fruition (from 1990 to 2006). We have come a LONG way. More than 2,000 genetic tests for human conditions are available today. These tests assist medical professionals in making diagnoses and allow patients to learn about their genetic susceptibility to disease.
Quantum computing has the potential to significantly advance the field because it will allow for faster sequencing and a more thorough and rapid analysis of the entire genome. Additionally, since quantum computers can process even more data than conventional computers and can even incorporate all genomic data into health records, predictions will be more accurate. Through QC, genetics and genomics could become more precise, resulting in better health for all.
One thing we have learned from the COVID-19 pandemic is that disaster and unforeseen circumstances could strike any minute. That and the fact that toilet paper is the item to stuck up on early for some reason? But I digress. Researchers had to go through those typically lengthy processes we discussed above to make a vaccine good enough to administer to the public. But honestly, it was not the end of the pandemic. So, integrating quantum computing in medicine, specifically drug development, will, at the very least, save YEARS in research and millions in resources. And the best case scenario, we forgo traditional drug trials for a simulated experience that gives the same if not better and more accurate result. Additionally, we would be sparing defenseless animals from the cruel fate of testing out drugs to make sure it doesn’t irreparably harm human beings.
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