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Oxford University today joins a consortium led by the digital quantum computing company, SEEQC, to build and deliver a full-stack quantum computer for pharmaceutical drug development for Merck KGaA.

Scientist in protective clothing working at a high-tec equipment station in a lab

The consortium has today been awarded a £6.85M grant by Innovate UK’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF) to build a commercially scalable quantum computer designed to tackle prohibitively high costs within pharmaceutical drug development.

Professor Chas Bountra, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Innovation at Oxford University, says: ‘We in academia need to do everything possible to help our industry colleagues accelerate the development of new medicines for patients. I am immensely excited about this project – it is an opportunity for us to work with so many technology leaders and potentially transform the process of drug discovery. We must make it better, faster and cheaper.’

The partnership will accelerate the use of quantum computing within pharmaceutical research to dramatically reduce the time required for drug development on a global scale. 

Professor Charlotte Deane, who leads the Oxford Protein Informatics Group in the Department of Statistics and Professor Frank Von Delft, at the Centre for Medicines Discovery at the Nuffield Department of Medicine, will be leading from Oxford University.

The project is focused on developing high-value simulation tools to support photodynamic therapies for cancer treatment. Currently, useful simulations of photosensitising drugs are not possible with classical computing power alone. This ground-breaking project will develop an application-specific quantum computer designed to simulate the most classically challenging tasks within this research. 

Matthew Hutchings, co-founder and CPO at SEEQC, says: ‘Today, drug discovery is a labour and time-intensive iterative process with immense costs. Thanks to our world-leading partners and the invaluable commercial benchmarking by our end-customers at Merck, we have the opportunity to develop a quantum computing platform that can radically improve the efficiency of drug development.’ 

The custom nature of the project requires close development to build several bespoke components and enable tight integration.  

It marks the first time a quantum computer has been integrated with a high-performance computer in the same network infrastructure. The quantum computer will require a redesigned refrigerator to support cooling at multiple levels, specifically for the cryogenic decoder.

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