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Google's quantum computing division will help develop new drugs

It teamed with Boehringer Ingelheim to do molecular dynamics simulations.
Steve Dent, @stevetdent
January 11, 2021
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A handout picture from October 2019 shows Sundar Pichai and Daniel Sank (R) with one of Google's Quantum Computers in the Santa Barbara lab, California, U.S. Picture taken in October 2019.      Google/Handout via REUTERS        THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY.
Handout . / Reuters

Google’s Quantum AI division is teaming with pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim to develop new types of drugs, the companies announced. The idea is to research and develop quantum computing tech to do “molecular dynamics” simulations, or the study of how molecules and atoms move. Boehringer Ingelheim has developed a new quantum lab for the three-year project, saying it’s the “first pharmaceutical company worldwide to join forces with Google in quantum computing.”

Boehringer Ingelheim will do the computer-aided “in silico” drug design while Google will supply the quantum computers and algorithms. Quantum computing has shown promise in this field, as it can in theory handle larger, more complex molecules than regular simulations. “Extremely accurate modelling of molecular systems is widely anticipated as among the most natural and potentially transformative applications of quantum computing,” said Google head of quantum algorithms, Ryan Babbush.

Current powerful computers can handle most types of drug simulations, but they’re not very good during the early stages of R&D, when scientists study molecules related to disease mechanisms. “Quantum computing has the potential to accurately simulate and compare much larger molecules than currently possible,“ Boehringer Ingelheim wrote in the press release. The company noted that quantum computing is still an “emerging technology,” however, so it might take some time for the partnership to bear fruit.

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