Biogen's drug discovery program gets quantum boost from improved molecular design

By Melissa Fassbender

- Last updated on GMT

Accenture Labs and 1QBit are collaborating with Biogen to develop quantum-enabled molecular comparison application. (Image: Business Wire)
Accenture Labs and 1QBit are collaborating with Biogen to develop quantum-enabled molecular comparison application. (Image: Business Wire)

Related tags Drug discovery Computer

Biogen and Accenture Labs have collaborated to develop a quantum-enabled molecular comparison application to accelerate drug discovery and ultimately, time to clinic.

The new application, developed in partnership with the quantum software firm 1Qbit, improves molecular design to speed drug discovery for neurological conditions such as multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

Molecular comparisons are one of the most complicated and early steps in drug discovery and involves intensive computation methods to review molecule matches and to predict the positive effects of a new therapy while reducing negative side effects​,” Jeff Elton, managing director strategy, life sciences and head predictive health intelligence at Accenture Labs told

According to Elton, Biogen and Accenture have a history of undertaking novel scientific and medical challenges together, so it was natural for them to collaborate on this opportunity – “a research problem meaningful to Biogen, an opportunity for breakthrough performance in a new field for Accenture, and one where patient therapeutic options could be accelerated​,” he explained.

Moving forward, Accenture is looking to scale quantum computing use in molecular matching, while improving speed and effectiveness. The company will also work with Biogen to make this an ongoing part of its drug discovery programs.

We are also actively working with other partners on other classes of problems that can produce comparably superior results to traditional approaches​,” said Elton, such as image analysis and interpretation.

All of this is directed towards those areas with the highest likelihood to improve speed and effectiveness of needed new medicines​,” he added, “especially where there are no real therapeutic alternatives today​.”

How does it work? 

The national government and military have funded quantum computer development for various environment or national security purposes, but also to advance them for industry use, Elton explained.

Now, the first industry applications are coming forward this year​,” he said, adding that the Biogen/iQbit pilot program is one of these breakthrough applications. “This is extremely exciting as we expect quantum computers to solve certain problems far faster than traditional binary computers​.”

As Elton explained, there are approaches that traditional computers can solve using “quantum computation” as opposed to a physical quantum computer; however, there are many classes of quantitative analysis that are likely unsolvable by other means, he said.

It achieves these speeds because of ‘quantum superposition’ where the sequence of ‘qubits’ maintains a one, zero, or quantum superposition of those two versus the ‘bits’ of a traditional computer where a single bit can be either one or zero (e.g., binary)​,” Elton explained.

Framed differently, he said, “a quantum computer with i qubits can be in an arbitrary 2n​ different states at the same time​ – potentially many orders of magnitude greater capacity, depending on the nature of the structure of the computation task​.”

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