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What you need to know about the Wellcome Leap Quantum for Bio program

Developing any scientific field needs time and resources. This applies to quantum computing as much as any other area. The real questions are where those resources will come from, and how we can best use the time at our disposal to ensure that we move forward as effectively as possible. One possible source of resources is grant-making bodies and organisations—which is one reason why the Wellcome Leap Quantum for Bio program is welcome. Here’s our summary of what you need to know.

Wellcome Leap Quantum for Bio

What are the aims of the Wellcome Leap Quantum for Bio program?

The program aims to speed up the development of applications of quantum computing in health. It has been developed because previous computing methods have generally benefited from the co-development of software, hardware and applications. The view is that this may also help quantum computing, especially at this early stage. The idea is to show how quantum-enabled solutions can address serious challenges to health.

Why is quantum computing so important in life sciences?

Quantum computing is massively more powerful than conventional computing. It can therefore be used to solve problems that are not even computationally possible—or would take thousands of years—using conventional computers. At the moment, much of the power is still theoretical, but it is close enough to be worth pursuing. This is especially true in life sciences, because biological data may be much easier to represent in quantum computing than conventional computing. Quantum computing also deals better with uncertainty, which is helpful for applications such as predicting the structure of proteins.

What are some of the other potential applications of quantum computing in life sciences?

More than 40 possible applications have been examined in proof-of-concept experiments. These range from clinical research and drug discovery to diagnostic testing, treatments and interventions. Examples include the use of a hybrid conventional/quantum approach to look at the interactions between ligands and proteins, the classification of images using quantum neural networks and the mechanisms of biological catalysts. However, none of these applications has yet shown significant advances in conventional computing. We are therefore still waiting for that breakthrough moment in quantum computing in life sciences, despite the enormous potential.

What is the Wellcome Leap Quantum for Bio program looking for, and what will it offer?

The Quantum for Bio program is looking for projects with very specific resource requirements. They need to be able to benefit from the quantum computers that are likely to be developed in the next three to five years. The program has defined the ‘space’ for these devices very carefully, by both the number of qubits, or quantum computational units and the computational runtime or program depth. The program is offering both research funding for teams—up to $40 million in total—and up to $10 million in prize money for successful proofs-of-concept that are clearly scalable.

What is the format of the Quantum for Bio program?

The program will run over three phases and 30 months. The first phase, lasting 12 months, will involve a maximum of 12 carefully selected cross-disciplinary projects. These will each be given a maximum of $1.5 million in research funding. Teams should include experts in both quantum computing and health. The focus of this phase is developing quantum algorithms. To move onto Phase 2, teams will need to demonstrate a significant advance for human health within the target resources.

In Phase 2, which will last 6 months, teams will focus on developing large-scale simulations of the algorithms developed during Phase 1, using conventional high-performance computers. By the end of Phase 2, teams will need to contain an expert on quantum hardware to advance to Phase 3. During Phase 3, which will last 12 months, teams will implement their algorithm on quantum computers. Up to $2 million will be available in funding to each team for this phase.

What are the prizes?

A prize of $2 million will be awarded to any team that successfully demonstrates their application in an experimental form on a quantum computer with the required qubits and program depth. The team also has to show that the application could be scaled to larger quantum computers. There will be a grand prize of $5 million for a team that successfully executes their algorithm on a quantum computer using resources that fit into the target range for the program. If more than one team achieves this, the solution judged most significant to human health will win the grand prize.