Donate to Science & Enterprise

S&E on Mastodon

S&E on LinkedIn

S&E on Flipboard

Please share Science & Enterprise

$50M Challenge Seeks Quantum Life Science Applications

Biocircuits illustration

(Gerd Altmann, Pixabay)

28 Mar. 2023. A new challenge competition seeks life science research applications for quantum computing that take advantage of the technology’s unique computational properties. The competition, sponsored by Wellcome Leap in Los Angeles, offers a prize purse of up to $40 million in funding to winning research teams, with an additional $10 million awarded for proof-of-concept demonstrations on quantum computing devices. Initial proposal abstracts are due 27 Apr.

Quantum technology offers a much different computing paradigm from today’s information technology. In quantum computing, information is processed in terms of probabilities, with data components expressed in infinite quantum bits or qubits, between values of 0 and 1, rather than current digital technology with data expressed in bits with values of 0 or 1. Quantum technology is derived from quantum physics to describe behavior of matter and energy at the atomic and sub-atomic levels, which allows for computations of these interactions in multiple, simultaneous states.

When applied to human health, says Wellcome Leap, quantum technology offers enormous potential to tackle computations of biological data, noting examples such as the theoretical ability to store an entire human genome in 33 qubits, or the genomes of every living person on earth in less than 100 qubits. Another promising application, says the organization, is protein structure algorithms for drug discovery, requiring complex simultaneous computations to capture and forecast bindings and other molecular properties.

Up to now however, says Wellcome Leap, proof-of-concept applications of quantum computing to clinical research, drug discovery, diagnostics, or treatments are producing results in speeds and outputs comparable to today’s IT systems. The Wellcome Leap Quantum for Bio program seeks applications of quantum computing that fulfill more of the technology’s promise. The organization is looking particularly for quantum technologies that can be implemented in the next three to five years, which will require advances beyond the current state of the art to reduce the depth and thus improve the efficiency of today’s algorithms.

Three-phase competition

“To enable quantum speed-up for sequencing on near term quantum computers,” says the Wellcome Leap announcement, “we need to develop more efficient information encoding, decoding, and processing methods, thereby reducing the number of required qubits, which in turn will reduce the depth of the algorithm.”

The challenge competition is structured into three phases. In the first phase, Wellcome Leap expects to fund up to 12 research initiatives from teams with both life science and quantum computing expertise for 12 months. Each team will be eligible for up to $1.5 million, with algorithms tracked and evaluated by a review team. Abstract proposals for the first phase are due at Wellcome Leap by 27 Apr. 2023.

Those initial teams with quantum algorithms considered significant advances for human health, will be selected for the program’s second phase. In phase 2 that runs for six months, teams are eligible for up to $750,000 in additional funding, and expected to advance and demonstrate their algorithms at large scale on current high-performance systems. Teams are also expected to identify expertise in quantum hardware to qualify for the third phase.

Teams selected for the challenge’s third phase are asked to further develop and advance their algorithms for quantum systems within 12 months. Wellcome Leap will award $2 million to teams taking part in phase 3, with deliverables reviewed for prizes. Those applications meeting the competition’s specifications for scale and efficiency will be awarded $2 million, with a $5 million grand prize for the application meeting those criteria and deemed most significant for advancing human health.

Wellcome Leap is a spin-off from the Wellcome Trust medical research foundation in the U.K. that seeks to create a new model for faster and more consequential breakthroughs in human health, patterned after the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. In Feb. 2022, Science & Enterprise reported that Wellcome Leap more than doubled its funding from its beginning two years earlier, adding another $335 million.

More from Science & Enterprise:

We designed Science & Enterprise for busy readers including investors, researchers, entrepreneurs, and students. Except for a narrow cookies and privacy strip for first-time visitors, we have no pop-ups blocking the entire page, nor distracting animated GIF graphics. If you want to subscribe for daily email alerts, you can do that here, or find the link in the upper left-hand corner of the desktop page. The site is free, with no paywall. But, of course, donations are gratefully accepted.

*     *     *


Comments are closed.