Novo Nordisk Foundation launches major investment to develop the first quantum computer dedicated to life sciences research and the green transition


Copenhagen, Denmark, September 21, 2022 /PRNewswire/ — The Novo Nordisk Foundation has awarded a US$200 million (DKK 1.5 billion) grant to build the first full-fledged quantum computer for the development of new medicines and new insights into climate change and the green economy win transition. which is not possible with classic computers today. Launched in collaboration with the University of Copenhagen, the Novo Nordisk Foundation’s ambitious quantum computing program brings together world-leading quantum computing researchers from Denmark, Canada, the Netherlands and the United States.

By applying next-generation quantum computing to the life sciences, the Novo Nordisk Foundation and its partners have the ambition to deliver revolutionary and applicable new insights that will transform the understanding of crucial scientific problems that represent enormous unmet medical and environmental needs. Quantum technologies will play a key role in the emergence of personalized medicine, enabling the analysis of immense genomic datasets, clarifying the complex interactions of the human microbiome, or accelerating drug discovery and development of new drugs. The ambition is that a quantum computer will also be a fundamental tool in developing new sustainable materials, providing new energy-saving solutions or supporting new approaches to decarbonization.

Quantum computing offers enormous potential, but challenges remain in developing a fully scaled, fault-tolerant, general-purpose quantum computer. The program will focus on the development of quantum hardware and materials, as well as algorithms to provide a quantum computer capable of solving tasks that cannot be solved by current computers today.

“We want to create an international powerhouse in quantum research, an area with enormous potential. We want to create, mature and develop technologies that can solve major and current challenges in health, sustainability and other areas.” says Mads Krogsgaard Thomsen, CEO of the Novo Nordisk Foundation.

Henrik C. Wegener, Rector of the University of Copenhagen, says: “Ultimately, everyone will benefit from the new opportunities this program creates. This includes areas such as the green transition, cyber security and the development of new medicines. The grant ensures that the University of Copenhagen will continue to rank among the world leaders in quantum research.” . With its size, ambition and interdisciplinary collaboration in Denmark and internationally, the Quantum Computing program will offer researchers the opportunity to advance the development of quantum technology. Many thanks to the Novo Nordisk Foundation, who are wholeheartedly committed to this area of ​​research.”

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Great potential in the life sciences

A fully functional quantum computer can very quickly perform complicated calculations that classical computers are either unable to perform or, ideally, would take several years to perform. A quantum computer therefore creates opportunities to develop new solutions in several areas.

Quantum computers have revolutionary potential, especially in the life sciences. Quantum computers can achieve a great deal here, because nature has many quantum mechanical systems that cannot yet be classified and properly understood. A quantum computer has an inherent ability to solve such tasks.

“In the life sciences, for example, we can accelerate the development of personalized medicine by using quantum computers to process the enormous amount of available data on the human genome and diseases. This will make it easier to tailor an optimal treatment.” Physicists and engineers will work closely with life science researchers on a daily basis. The development of the technology is guided by concrete biological experiments and questions, and this close interdisciplinarity is a crucial parameter for success”, says Lene Oddershede, Senior Vice President, Natural & Technical Sciences, Novo Nordisk Foundation.

One of the most ambitious quantum initiatives in the world

A portion of the Novo Nordisk Foundation’s Quantum Computing Program grant will support the creation of Quantum Foundry P/S, a partner company. This company is a manufacturing facility that provides materials and hardware to the researchers in the program and works very closely with the rest of the program.

In the first seven years of the 12-year collaboration, the researchers and engineers will develop the materials and hardware for the quantum computer. Researchers will create capabilities to co-engineer three of the most promising quantum computing platforms, providing a basis for determining which platform or parts of it are best suited to be further expanded.

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The second half of the project will be spent scaling the selected platform to a size that makes it usable for academic and industrial researchers and using it to solve relevant problems in life sciences.

According to Professor Peter Krogstrup Jeppesen, who describes it as one of the most ambitious programs of all time, the Novo Nordisk Foundation program differs significantly from other large, well-known quantum computing programs in the world.

“The other big initiatives around the world have already selected their platforms and are trying to optimize them. But we anticipate many will hit a dead end when there are fundamental limitations either in the quality of qubits or in terms of scaling. We will spend seven years identifying the platform that offers the greatest opportunity to build a usable quantum computer.” explains Peter Krogstrup Jeppesen, professor at the Nils Bohr Institute of the University of Copenhagen, who leads the quantum computing program.

About the Quantum Computing Program of the Novo Nordisk Foundation

The Novo Nordisk Foundation quantum computing program is a collaboration between the Novo Nordisk Foundation and the Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen that will run for the next 12 years.

The mission is to design and build quantum hardware and algorithms for a quantum computer that can solve important problems in life sciences.

The program will involve a large ecosystem of universities and industries. Expected participants in the program include researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (USA), Delft University of Technology (Netherlands), Technical University of Denmark, Aarhus University (Denmark) and University of Toronto (Canada).

In the first seven years, the project will focus on developing materials and hardware to build qubits. In parallel, various quantum platforms are being researched and the most suitable quantum platform is being identified. The program will work with life science researchers who will lead the development of the technology.

In the last five years, the technology needs to be scaled up to eventually develop a quantum computer that can solve relevant problems within the life sciences that current computers cannot.

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About quantum computers

The enormous computing power of quantum computers will have a major impact on the green transition and the development of new medicines. The Quantum Computing Program aims to produce a fault-tolerant and general-purpose quantum computer. The fact that a quantum computer is fault-tolerant means it isn’t plagued by noise, making calculations inaccurate. Such a quantum computer does not exist today and is incredibly difficult to manufacture.

Humans will initially not be able to use a quantum computer while sitting on a sofa or a desk. The computer could reside in a data center where it can be accessed via the cloud to solve specific and very complex tasks.

Quantum computers do not work like the computers available today. Instead, they are based on the principles of quantum mechanics.

In a classic computer, the computing power is in the central processing unit. In a quantum computer, the corresponding unit is called a quantum processing unit (QPU), which is made up of quantum bits (qubits).

A classic computer is digital, which means it calculates with two states: 0 and 1. A quantum computer is different because it uses qubits. A qubit can be 0, 1, or a combination of both states, and this opens up significant new possibilities for the computational unit.

About the Novo Nordisk Foundation

The Novo Nordisk Foundation is an independent Danish foundation with corporate interests. It has two objectives: 1) to provide a stable base for the commercial and research activities of the Novo Group companies; and 2) to support scientific, humanitarian, and social causes.

The vision of the foundation is to make a significant contribution to research and development that improves people’s lives and the sustainability of society. Since 2010, the foundation has donated more than DKK 30 billion (EUR 4 billion), mainly for research at public institutions and hospitals in Denmark and the other Nordic countries, and for research-based treatment and prevention of diabetes. Read more at www.novonordiskfonden.dk/en.

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