Can Quantum Computing Play a Role in Drug Discovery? At Least One Startup Thinks So

As quantum information science grows to every corner of hard tech, the biotechnology sector is no exception 

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Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

Fanfare

Of all the use cases for how quantum computing (QC) can assist our future lives, none can be more life-changing than how the technology can be applied to human healthcare and the pharmaceutical industry.

So far, though, the examples of real progress are few and far between. Sure, we have a lot of fanfare about breakthroughs in this area or that, but mostly it is just… well, fanfare, unfortunately.

The technology, with the right skills and metrics applied, may be able to solve many of the intractable medical conundrums facing us.

The disruptive technology of quantum computing (QC) is already making inroads here, with an abundance of startups and the larger, more established corporations researching into cures for the ailments and diseases that have been the scourge of our sub-species since hominid Lucy walked in modern-day Ethiopia some 3.2m years ago.

Presently, QC startups like ApexQubit, HQS Quantum Simulations, ProteinQure, and Qulab are trying to solve various problems using quantum information science as the starting point.

And there will be others.

Young-Gun Smarts

One of them, Menten AI — a San Francisco-based QC startup that first saw the light of day in 2018 — hopes to use a blend of QC, ML and ‘young-gun smarts’ to construct proteins that will impact the wider business world.

Lucy, there’s still hope, my dear.

‘AI & QUANTUM-POWERED PROTEIN DESIGN’

— Menten AI

Headed by a triumvirate of co-founders CEO Hans Melo, SCO Tamás Görbe and Vikram Mulligan, all three possess Ph.Ds. Melo in computational neuroscience, Görbe in biocatalysis, protein engineering and heterogeneous catalysis while Mulligan gained his in biochemistry.

Education, Education, Education

With two more scientists on board to complete the team, one a ‘friendly giant’ — Ph.D. candidates in biochemistry/biophysics and bioinformatics/computational biology, respectively — it looks like nothing can stop them as they’re dressed to the nines in education and entrepreneurial savviness. Menten AI, then, is sure to make waves in a nascent industry that has yet to really get going.

‘At Menten AI we’re working on protein design using machine learning and quantum computing. For use cases in drug discovery and industrial enzyme design.’

— Hans Melo, Menten AI

Biology Reimagined

One of the startups mottos in ‘Biology Reimagined’, and the startup hopes by ‘leverages synthetic biology, machine learning, and quantum computing’, they can do just that.

 

Menten AI wants to focus its attention in three main areas:

  • Peptide therapeutics
  • Proteins for drug delivery
  • Enzyme design and optimization

Without a doubt, there are major challenges ahead, but with quantum information science making small breakthroughs all the time, we can only envisage that in a decade or two some of these problems will have been eradicated.

Data on the financial situation of the startup in regard to angel investors interested or seed funding is sparse and still in stealth mode, but it is only a matter of time before the VCs come sniffing around this talented trio with their great ideas.

As a side note, the team has contributed to various scientific papers in this area, Designing peptides on a quantum computer by Mulligan and Melo et al, De novo design of bioactive protein switches Mulligan et al and Transesterification of a tertiary alcohol by engineered candida antarctica lipase A by Görbe et al amongst others. Difficult reading, yes, but maybe worth the time and effort for those so inclined.