On Tuesday Cleveland Clinic announced a decade-long partnership with IBM, designed to harness the power of quantum computing for next-generation medical research.
WHY IT MATTERS
With the joint launch of their new Discovery Accelerator, Cleveland Clinic and IBM aim to expand the speed and scope of healthcare and life science research, they say, and hope to uncover innovative approaches to public health emergencies such as COVID-19.
Key to the new collaboration is installation of the first private-sector, on-premise IBM Quantum System One in the U.S. In addition to that on-campus deployment, Big Blue will also, in the years ahead install another next-generation 1,000-plus qubit quantum system at a client facility in Cleveland – hopefully by 2023. The clinic will also have cloud access to more than 20 other IBM quantum systems.
Such computing power could enable big advances in data-intensive research areas such as genomics, single cell transcriptomics, population health and drug discovery, while also facilitating faster development of an array of new clinical applications.
Cleveland Clinic says the Discovery Accelerator will also provide a technology foundation for its new Global Center for Pathogen Research and Human Health, first announced in January.
Together the health system and its partners at IBM hope that harnessing quantum computing, hybrid cloud technologies and artificial intelligence will enable faster gains from leading-edge innovations such as deep search, quantum-enriched simulation, generative models and cloud-based AI-driven autonomous labs.
Among the other IBM technologies made available to Cleveland Clinic are RoboRXN, a cloud platform to help scientists synthesize new molecules remotely with robots and AI algorithms, and the cloud-based IBM Functional Genomics Platform, designed to speed discovery of molecular targets required for drug design.
THE LARGER TREND
Quantum computing has shown big potential for many years that’s only just starting to be tapped. Its enormous processing power could enable new breakthroughs in drug design and the development of new therapeutics.
Back in 2013, we offered an early look at what quantum computers could do for healthcare, and tried to explain in layman’s terms just how they work.
Rather than binary 1/0 digital technology, quantum machines operate using quantum bits – or qubits – that can exist in what’s referred to as “superposition.” They can be ones or zeroes, or they can be in multiple states at once.
That means that powerful quantum computers can make multiple computations at once – enabling speed and horsepower beyond even advanced conventional supercomputers.
Two years ago, as Google claimed it had achieved “quantum supremacy,” and IBM pushed back on that claim, we noted that, despite the enormous promise, real-world applications were still a bit further in the future.
“No one should be putting a down payment on a quantum computer today,” said one developer we spoke with. “The methods used today in AI/ML are well understood and run reasonably fast on conventional computers.”
Clearly, Cleveland Clinic thinks differently, and is investing now to position itself for big research breakthroughs in the near future.
Its 10-year partnership with IBM puts a focus on education, training and workforce development – from high school to the professional level – related to quantum computing, with the goal of creating new jobs in the Cleveland area.
“Quantum will make the impossible possible,” said Ohio Lt. Governor Jon Husted, Director of InnovateOhio. “A partnership between these two great institutions will put Cleveland, and Ohio, on the map for advanced medical and scientific research, providing a unique opportunity to improve treatment options for patients and solve some of our greatest healthcare challenges.”
ON THE RECORD
“Through this innovative collaboration, we have a unique opportunity to bring the future to life,” said Cleveland Clinic CEO Dr. Tom Mihaljevic, in a statement. “These new computing technologies can help revolutionize discovery in the life sciences. The Discovery Accelerator will enable our renowned teams to build a forward-looking digital infrastructure and help transform medicine, while training the workforce of the future and potentially growing our economy.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic has spawned one of the greatest races in the history of scientific discovery – one that demands unprecedented agility and speed,” added IBM CEO Arvind Krishna. “At the same time, science is experiencing a change of its own – with high performance computing, hybrid cloud, data, AI, and quantum computing, being used in new ways to break through long-standing bottlenecks in scientific discovery.”