Quantum horizons: Driving the future of healthcare and pharma

Last month, the National Quantum Computing Centre (NQCC) hosted its inaugural workshop, “Quantum Computing for Healthcare and Pharma,” at the Royal Society in London. This one-day interactive event was aimed at exploring the transformative potential of quantum computing in revolutionising the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries. The event convened leading experts from across the UK and Europe to understand sector-specific perspectives on a range of critical topics including:

  • The current global landscape and the UK’s engagement with quantum computing in healthcare and pharma
  • Identification of emerging opportunities and the UK’s competitive strengths within the global context
  • Exploration of sectoral adoption opportunities, priorities, and potential support models for both academic and commercial development
  • Discussions on the next steps for the sectors, including the strategic role of central bodies such as the NQCC.

From the outset, the workshop buzzed with energy and enthusiasm. Diverse stakeholders, including representatives from big pharma, biotech startups, academic circles, government, national labs, global pre-competitive alliances, and policymaking bodies, engaged in rich discussions aimed at shaping the future of quantum computing in healthcare and pharmaceuticals.

A day of insight and interaction

The morning sessions at the workshop delved into the cutting-edge advancements in quantum computing applications, featuring insightful keynote presentations and panel discussions from leading organizations such as Boehringer Ingelheim, King’s College London, Bayer Global, and the Medicines Discovery Catapult, UK. The topics discussed ranged from drug discovery and personalised medicine to addressing operational challenges in healthcare, alongside the crucial aspect of data privacy and security. These presentations were designed not only to inform but also to inspire participants to envision the integration of quantum computing within their specific fields.

This was followed by a compelling NQCC use-case highlight session, which showcased results from a variety of NQCC-funded R&D projects exploring practical use cases, in partnership with organizations such as GSK, Capgemini, Homoeomorphic Labs (Zaiku Group), and Applied Quantum Computing. The session concluded with presentations by Riverlane and Seeqc, who discussed the current state-of-the-art in quantum computing stack development, system optimisation, and outlined the roadmap for future advancements.

In the afternoon, the workshop transitioned into facilitated breakout sessions and interactive roundtable discussions. This format fostered a dynamic exchange of ideas and perspectives, allowing participants to dive deeper into specific topics and collaboratively explore potential solutions and opportunities.

Balancing vision with pragmatism

The mood throughout the day was one of measured optimism. Participants were excited about the potential of quantum computing yet remained acutely aware of the technical, ethical, and operational challenges ahead. This balance fostered a dialogue that was both visionary and grounded, driving conversations that were productive and forward-looking.

As a facilitator and convenor, the NQCC played a key role in bringing together diverse groups, thereby fostering an environment ripe for making meaningful connections and identifying collaborative opportunities. This underscored its commitment to advancing quantum computing in the UK.

Reflecting on feedback and forging ahead

Feedback from the workshop was overwhelmingly positive, with attendees commending the event’s collaborative spirit and the quality of discussions. However, participants highlighted the need for greater diversity among speakers and called for more targeted education and awareness campaigns to enhance skill development and talent cultivation within the sector.

There was a robust demand for the sector to identify and dedicate resources to address grand challenges, foster enduring collaborations across industry, academia, and technology developers, and pinpoint specific use cases that demonstrate the practical utility of quantum computing for the sector. Additionally, there was a consensus on the need for a sharper focus on algorithm development and error correction techniques, and importantly, an increase in investment in fundamental research, where success is not simply judged on the ability to publish peer-reviewed papers.

The workshop also highlighted the ongoing need for similar events in the future and emphasised the pivotal role of organisations like the NQCC in facilitating collaboration and driving innovation throughout the ecosystem.

What’s next?

The insights gathered from the breakout sessions are currently being compiled into a comprehensive insights paper, due to be published on the NQCC website.

This workshop marked the beginning of a series of events aimed at advancing the integration of quantum computing within the healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors in the UK. We invite all stakeholders to remain engaged, continue exploring the vast potential of quantum computing, and actively contribute to shaping a future where quantum technology significantly improves healthcare outcomes worldwide. Stakeholders interested in leading or hosting future workshops in this series are encouraged to connect with the NQCC.

Join us on this exciting journey as we explore the frontiers of what is possible in healthcare and pharma with the transformative power of quantum computing.