IBM wants to revolutionize medical research with quantum computing


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The Cleveland Clinic is the first private medical institution to install a live quantum computer on its site. Evidence of the rise in power – and utility! – of these machines that some claimed had no future.

The quantum invites itself to the clinic! The American IBM, champion of the quantum sector, has just announced that it has delivered the first quantum computer (an IBM System One) 100% dedicated to medical research and installed directly on site. In this case, that of the Cleveland Clinic, in the US state of Ohio. This unique project relies on the large budget available to the medical institution: the foundation that oversees the various sites has received $500 million from the state of Ohio and various US agencies to develop THE Discovery accelerator to which the IBM computer is connected. One of these medical “mega projects” currently in vogue in the US is to accelerate research through massive funding in multidisciplinary teams. By the way, don’t let the term “clinic” fool you: IBM’s partner here is a juggernaut. With more than 77,000 employees worldwide, the Cleveland Clinic is a medical war machine. And a reference in the world of science.

Read also : How IBM should lead the Revolutionary Quantum Advantage Pathway from 2023 (January 2022)​

Almost two years after the delivery of Europe’s first commercial quantum computer IBM, the quantum champion continues to execute his ruthless roadmap without missteps. He and his medical partner aim for nothing less than to revolutionize medical research. Particularly thanks to the enormous potential computing power of this type of machine. In the long run, this promises to transform the humanly unsustainable computing time – several thousand, even millions of years of computing time! – in much shorter time. To push the boundaries of knowledge, particularly in modeling and identifying molecules and other proteins.

Quantum power against biological problems

The experts at IBM and the Cleveland Clinic for IBM's newly installed System One quantum computer.  ©IBM

The experts at IBM and the Cleveland Clinic for IBM’s newly installed System One quantum computer. ©IBM

The quantum computer is not intended, as we can sometimes read, to replace classical computers. Simply because it can’t: Far from being a panacea, it’s a new kind of machine that excels at certain calculations…and less so at others. Its instability and inability to manage a lot of memory makes it useless for manipulating a large amount of data or computing AIs and other 3D renderings. However, where it excels is in solving problems that are absolutely beyond the reach of conventional computers. For less complex problems (less available memory), but more difficult to solve. Mainly combinatorial problems with a number of solutions that make even today’s supercomputers inefficient.

Read also: IBM delivers Europe’s first quantum computer to Germany and says ready to support France (June 2021)​

These problems are common in the “biological” health world. The incredible complexity of molecular behavior makes current simulations imperfect. And the smallest ambitious simulations can mobilize supercomputers for weeks. View more.

Far from vague, the technical objectives of the collaboration between IBM and the Cleveland Clinic Discovery Accelerator are precise:

  • Develop drug identification and optimization protocols targeting specific proteins
  • Improve a quantum-accelerated prediction model for monitoring cardiovascular risk after non-cardiac surgery (we said it, it’s accurate!)
  • Apply artificial intelligence to search genome sequencing results and large databases of drug targets to find effective, existing drugs that can help patients with Alzheimer’s and other diseases.
The spectrum of work from this extraordinary computer focuses on what quantum computing does best: using the blazing speed of a network of quantum particles to navigate the field of possibilities at lightning speed. To find, almost magically, THE solution that would have taken a thousand years of calculation with a supercomputer. However, the equation is a bit more difficult than just translating binary programs. In the quantum field, both calculation methods and the way of writing programs must be reinvented. Absolutely. And for that you need professionals, not only in IT, but also in the target areas.

The world is waiting for results, IBM is waiting for business specialists

IBM Qskit

When IBM develops software tools to “talk” to quantum computers, it’s up to researchers and scientists, each specialized in their field, to design new algorithms and programs specific to their field.

Behind this beautiful announcement with fanfare lies the reality of quantum: While performance is constantly increasing and the software ecosystem is constantly advancing, it is a mammoth task ahead of IBM and its partners. If the potential power is already there for machines with the latest chips (read our article), chemists, physicists, doctors and all other professions have their responsibility.

Read also: IBM promises first commercial quantum supercomputers by 2025 (May 2022)​

As Jay Gambetta, head of quantum research at IBM, recently confided to us: ” we need the specialists of the different professions to seize it. They are in the best position to identify their needs and design the new algorithms needed to take advantage of quantum processors. ‘, he explained to us. ” Each in their own field, it’s up to them to map out their problems and work with us and the rest of the quantum ecosystem to invent new algorithms that can truly take over the full power of our computers “.

Quantum roadmap for IBM processors

If IBM has already proven that scientific applications – in the field of chemistry – can be improved and accelerated by a quantum computer, there is still a long way to go before this funny machine can convince the rest of the industry. IBM is fighting the snake biting its tail here and investing heavily — it’s launching its System Two soon and its hardware roadmap pushes it to 2027 — to boost the ecosystem as much as possible. But as so often, everything depends on the software. And to a possible discovery so striking it would mark the ghosts. And would drag everyone into the direction of the quantum revolution. For soon?

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