However, what if a computer could speed up the drug discovery process, making it more likely that the drug is effective and produces fewer side effects? What if it could even tailor the medicine for just one person, to maximise effectiveness and minimise reaction just for them?
Such computer-assisted drug discovery is possible with standard “classical” computers but such devices are quickly overwhelmed by the vast computational requirements even to tackle relatively small problems . Fortunately a new development is in the process of overcoming this limitation. Quantum computers are already beginning to contribute to the discovery of therapeutics, and over the next several years we may enter the era of personalised medicine.
The Problem With Current Drug Development
In 2020 the FDA authorised 53 drugs, the second-highest number in the past 20 years (A. Mullard). While this may seem like great news, the cost of such drug development has been exponentially increasing akin to an inverse Moore’s Law known as Eroom’s Law, and there has been a distinct lack of so-called ‘blockbuster drugs’ in recent years. Furthermore, biologics – drugs which are made from living organisms or contain components of living organisms – have been responsible for 93% of global net drug spending growth since 2014, with their exceptional therapeutic potential making them 22 times as commercially valuable compared to small molecules (S. Kozlowski et al. and F. Makurvet). Unfortunately, biologics also contain thousands of times more atoms making simulations with classical computers very difficult or impossible.