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Executive Summary

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Research Questions

  1. What are the current developments associated with the application of quantum computers and simulators to the life sciences?
  2. What are the potential opportunities and challenges associated with the application of quantum computers and simulators to the life sciences?
  3. How are initiatives (including policy measures, strategies, actions and plans) being adopted globally to strengthen the quantum technology research and innovation ecosystem?

Quantum technologies are expected to lead to new products and services having potentially transformative impacts across many sectors. However, despite the numerous opportunities, the development and application of quantum technologies also pose several challenges that will need to be addressed if the benefits of the technologies are to be fully realised.

This report analyses the landscape associated with the development and adoption of quantum technologies in the life sciences sector with a particular focus on quantum computers and quantum simulators. Through a detailed literature review, interviews with a range of stakeholders and a comprehensive scientometric analysis, the work examines the key trends and the challenges and opportunities associated with the application of quantum computers and simulators to the life sciences. The work synthesises evidence — both qualitative and quantitative — on various aspects associated with the global quantum computers and simulators and life sciences research ecosystem including growing research areas and key countries, institutions, companies and funders that are engaged in emerging quantum computer and simulator research. The research presented in this report will be of interest to a range of stakeholders including those in academia and industry, policymakers and more generally to anyone interested in the development, adoption and impact of emerging technologies.

Key Findings

  • With widespread interest in its long-term disruptive potential as a technology, there is a great deal of activity taking place across the globe relating to quantum technologies. Our analysis of global publication activity demonstrates that research into quantum computers and simulators has dramatically increased over the last five years with a variety of academic institutions and companies active across the globe.
  • The overarching vision is that quantum technology will enable fundamental breakthroughs in a number of fields to address challenges that are currently difficult to solve. Our research shows that although being a rapidly growing area, life sciences interest in quantum computers and simulators is still relatively modest and currently focused in specific areas. Nevertheless, while there are many and divergent forecasts regarding its benefits, broadly there is consensus that quantum computers and simulators promise a multitude of opportunities in the life sciences. These include domains such as quantum chemistry, drug design and discovery, biomolecular processes, biological optimisation, and genetics and genomics.
  • There are a series of challenges associated with the application of quantum computers and simulators to the life sciences. The realisation of many life sciences use cases will require further developments to scale up quantum computers and simulators. For example, further developments in quantum hardware are needed, as well as the development of specialised quantum algorithms and investment in key enabling materials. There are also challenges related to the availability and types of skills. Furthermore, potential risks associated with the use of the technology could have ethical implications and undermine trust.
  • We outline a set of potential activities to help enable the quantum technology life sciences ecosystem in the future. Growing and nurturing the wider ecosystem will require a combination of activities, some of which are specific to the life sciences industry, and others that are more general which horizontally apply across multiple sectors. These activities are unlikely to be achieved by governments or industry alone and will require an active, multi-stakeholder approach. Furthermore, given the early stage of development of quantum technologies, it is important that stakeholders involved are 'patient' and embrace a holistic, long-term approach to its adoption.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    What is this study about?

  • Chapter Two

    What are some of the general trends observed in the wider quantum technology ecosystem?

  • Chapter Three

    What are the current developments associated with the application of quantum computers and simulators to the life sciences?

  • Chapter Four

    What are the potential opportunities and challenges associated with the application of quantum computers and simulators to the life sciences?

  • Chapter Five

    How are initiatives being adopted globally to strengthen the quantum technology R&I ecosystem?

  • Chapter Six

    Concluding remarks and future outlook

  • Annex A

    Detailed description of methods

  • Annex B

    Supplementary evidence associated with the analyses

Research conducted by

This research was prepared for the Novo Nordisk Foundation and Novo Holdings and conducted by RAND Europe.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation Research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.