“Covid-19 is an example” of how the center and its new technologies will be used, said Dr. Lara Jehi, chief research information officer at the Cleveland Clinic.
“But … what we want is to prevent the next Covid-19,” Jehi told CNN Business. “Or if it happens, to be ready for it so that we don’t have to, as a country, put everything on hold and put all of our resources into just treating this emergency. We want to be proactive and not reactive.”
The promise of quantum
Quantum computers process information in a fundamentally different way from regular computers, so they will be able to solve problems that today’s computers can’t. They can, for example, test multiple solutions to a problem at once, making it possible to come up with an answer in a fraction of the time it would take a different machine.
Applied to healthcare research, that capability is expected to be useful for modeling molecules and how they interact, which could accelerate the development of new pharmaceuticals. Quantum computers could also improve genetic sequencing to help with cancer research, and design more efficient, effective clinical trials for new drugs, Jehi said.
Ultimately, Cleveland Clinic and IBM expect that applying quantum and other advanced technologies to healthcare research will speed up the rate of discovery and product development. Currently, the average time from scientific discovery in a lab to getting a drug to a patient is around 17 years, according to the National Institutes of Health.
“We really need to accelerate,” Jehi said. “What we learned with the Covid-19 pandemic is that we cannot afford, as a human race, to just drop everything and focus on one emergency at a time.”
Part of the problem: It takes a long time to process and analyze the massive amount of data generated by healthcare, research and trials — something that AI, quantum computing and high-performance computing (a more powerful version of traditional computing) can help with. Quantum computers do that by “simulating the world,” said Dario Gil, director of IBM Research.
“Instead of conducting physical experiments, you’re conducting them virtually, and because you’re doing them virtually through computers, it’s much faster,” Gil said.
What this means for IBM
“What we’re seeing is the emergency of quantum as a new industry within the world of information technology and computing,” Gil said. “What we’re seeing here in the context of Cleveland Clinic is … a partner that says, ‘I want the entire capacity of a full quantum computer to be [dedicated] to my research mission.”
The partnership also includes a training element that will help educate people on how to use quantum computing for research — which is likely to further grow the ecosystem around the new technology.
Cleveland Clinic and IBM declined to detail the cost of the quantum system being installed on the clinic’s campus, but representatives from both organizations called it a “significant investment.” Quantum computers are complex machines to build and maintain because they must be stored at extremely cold temperatures (think: 200 times colder than outer space).
The Cleveland Clinic will start by using IBM’s quantum computing cloud offering while waiting for its on-premises machine to be built, which is expected to take about a year. IBM plans to later install at the clinic a more advanced version of its quantum computer once it is developed in the coming years.
Jehi, the Cleveland Clinic research lead, acknowledged that quantum computing technology is still nascent, but said the organization wanted to get in on the ground floor.
“It naturally needs nurturing and growing so that we can figure out what are its applications in healthcare,” Jehi said. “It was important to us that we design those applications and we learn them ourselves, rather than waiting for others to develop them.”