Quantum Computing Joins Fight Against Antibiotic Resistance

Scarlett Evans

August 2, 2022

Researcher holds a test tube
Quantum computing could help fight antibiotic resistance.Getty

Quantum computing could be paired with AI to rapidly discover next-generation medications that bacteria have not yet been exposed to, according to a World Economic Forum report.

Heightened health awareness in the wake of the Covid pandemic has exposed a new global challenge; antibiotic resistance, according to the report, written by IBM vice president Europe and Africa and director of IBM Research Europe Alessandro Curioni.

Antibiotic resistance has reached a critical level and tackling it has become a key mission of the recently opened University of Oxford Pandemic Sciences Institute, which was established to tackle health threats in the pandemic’s wake.

AI generative models are used to simulate potential drug candidates and monitor the reactions a candidate molecule could display with its neighbors. The task is a significant one, as the AI models are looking not only for pre-existing combinations of molecules but also for the creation of novel medications, giving vast numbers of variables

that traditional modeling systems struggle to account for.

Quantum computing could improve these molecular simulations and allow the AI model to run through various molecule combinations more rapidly and efficiently than is currently possible.

Combining AI and quantum computing for material discovery comes under a wider strategy at IBM Research via its Accelerated Discovery scheme, which the company says combines expertise in quantum computing, AI and hybrid cloud to “drastically increase how quickly we can discover solutions to tackle today’s most urgent problems”.

IBM has designed a tool for digital chemistry that it has made available via the IBM Cloud. The tool, RXN for Chemistry, was developed to predict chemical reactions and automate the chemical synthesis process, combining quantum computing and AI to achieve rapid results.

The company has also developed a tool called RoboRXN, a fridge-sized chemistry lab that combines AI, cloud computing and robots to help researchers create new molecules anywhere and at any time. 

While quantum computing has not yet been deployed for the specific purpose of fighting antibiotic resistance, it is likely on the horizon as industries increasingly turn to the high-speed modeling it enables to rapidly solve ongoing global challenges. Drug discovery and development is already a sector set to see huge benefits from quantum computing’s capabilities.

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