IBM and Cleveland Clinic are deploying the first on-site quantum computer in health care as tech promises to accelerate scientific breakthroughs

IBM's Quantum System One is the first quantum computer dedicated to biomedical and health research.
Ryan Lavine for IBM

Today, when researchers set out to design new drugs for diseases like cancer or Alzheimer’s, they know the process will be slow and sporadic at best. Traditional approaches to scientific research face bottlenecks arising from the process, cost, and complexity of the work, along with the amount of time it takes for classical computers to analyze massive amounts of data.

But what if instead of attempting to discover and design new drugs and medicines using simple binary digits, we could use something that dramatically changes how we analyze data and what can be discovered from it? Something that could bring new therapies and cures much faster to patients in need.

Technological advances lead to conceptual leaps in knowledge and the discovery of previously unimagined new paradigms. That’s one of the promises of quantum computing, a rapidly emerging technology that harnesses the laws of quantum mechanics to explore problems that are too complex for classical computers to solve. Quantum computers hold the potential to run vast simulations to design better drugs and treatments at breathtaking speeds.

When most Americans learn about technologies like quantum computing, they probably assume that it comes from Silicon Valley. After all, we’re accustomed to innovation taking the form of digital apps and platforms designed by programmers who work in front of a keyboard. That model has produced countless advancements in recent years–but it isn’t the only way groundbreaking progress can be made.

The truth is that many of our most vital breakthroughs in health and medicine have emerged not from the coasts, but from the heartland–where, for more than a century, Cleveland Clinic has stood at the forefront of innovation. From discovering serotonin in the 1940s and pioneering bypass surgery in the 1960s to identifying how the microbiome benefits human health in the past decade, Cleveland Clinic teams of researchers and clinicians have investigated the problems of our patients and innovated solutions.

These discoveries have impacted health care. But they have come with a steep cost: Time. On average, it takes more than 15 years for a scientific discovery in a biomedical research lab to become a tangible therapy or diagnostic test available to patients. Not to mention, this process can take up to $100 million. With emerging technologies such as quantum computing, artificial intelligence, and cloud, we can change this. What once took decades could now be achieved in months and can become more affordable and less time-intensive for research teams.

That’s why IBM is partnering with Cleveland Clinic to introduce the first quantum computer ever deployed on site in the private sector–and the first in the world dedicated to biomedical and health research. Unveiled this week at its permanent home on Cleveland Clinic’s campus in Ohio, IBM Quantum System One is part of a groundbreaking effort to significantly speed up the pace of scientific breakthroughs.

For researchers at Cleveland Clinic, it means the chance to develop more precise, targeted, and effective medicines–and more accurately predict which patients will encounter life-threatening and chronic diseases.

For people across the country, it means the potential to make major leaps forward in the fight against complex diseases–and a new technology platform that can serve as a model for every region to make breakthroughs of their own.

For Clevelanders and Northeast Ohioans, it means well-paying jobs in cutting-edge fields. It strengthens the city’s position as a globally recognized hub of innovation. And it sends a clear message to the nation and the world that the American heartland is a place where the future is being written.

We don’t yet know precisely which breakthroughs quantum computing will help us achieve–and which medicines, models, vaccines, and therapies they could make possible.

But we do know that by working to dramatically reduce the time it takes to investigate the most complex mysteries of human health, this effort will close the gap between imagination and discovery–between the impossible and the possible. Quantum and other advanced computing technologies will help us expedite progress toward new treatments and cures for our patients.

We are grateful to the city of Cleveland, the state of Ohio, and all of the local, state, and national leaders who have made this work possible by investing in pioneering research and in our scientific infrastructure.

We are excited to embark on this journey of discovery–delivering more jobs to the heartland, more opportunities to the nation, and more medical breakthroughs to the world.

Serpil Erzurum, M.D., is Cleveland Clinic’s chief research and academic officer. Darío Gil is IBM’s SVP and director of research.

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