IBM Corp. is teaming up with startup Algorithmiq Inc. to explore ways that quantum computers could be used to speed up drug discovery.

The companies announced the partnership today.

IBM is pursuing a multiyear research effort focused on developing a large-scale quantum computer. It’s believed that such a system would be capable of performing calculations too complex for even the most powerful conventional supercomputers. The latest fruit of IBM’s research effort is Osprey, a quantum processor with 433 qubits that made its debut last week.

Finland-based Algorithmiq, in turn, is developing a simulation platform optimized to run on quantum processors. The platform is designed to help scientists accelerate research initiatives in areas such as healthcare and materials science. Algorithmiq raised $4 million earlier this year from a group of investors that included Tiger Global.

As part of the partnership announced today, Algorithmiq will collaborate with IBM to explore how quantum computers could be used for drug discovery. In particular, the companies hope to develop ways of speeding up the drug discovery process and reducing the associated costs.

IBM and Algorithmiq will prioritize the emerging field of quantum chemistry as part of their research. Quantum chemistry applies concepts from quantum mechanics to the study of molecules and materials. According to the companies, Algorithmiq has already developed multiple algorithms that have demonstrated the potential to advance research in this area.

One of the main obstacles to building large-scale quantum computers is that qubits, the basic building blocks of a quantum processor, are prone to calculation errors. As a result, it’s difficult to carry out complex computing tasks such as simulating molecules. Algorithmiq says that its researchers have discovered a way to “significantly improve” the accuracy of quantum chemistry simulations.

“Quantum computing holds the key to revolutionising the process of drug discovery and development,” stated Algorithmiq co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Sabrina Maniscalco.

IBM and Algorithmiq plan to contribute the new technologies they will develop as part of the partnership to the open-source Qiskit software toolkit. The toolkit, which was released by IBM in 2017, makes it easier for developers to write algorithms that can run on quantum processors. Qiskit also includes a collection of pre-packaged quantum algorithms.

IBM makes its quantum processors available to developers through a cloud-based service. The company’s newest quantum processor, Osprey, features more than three times as many qubits as its previous-generation device. Next year, IBM intends to introduce an even more advanced processor called Condor that will include more than 1,000 qubits. 

Photo: IBM

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