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The Novo Nordisk Foundation has awarded a $200 million grant to establish the first full-scale quantum computer, which could create new medicines, solve life science problems and progress green solutions in a way that is impossible with current technology.

The Novo Nordisk Foundation Quantum Computing Program will use cutting-edge technology to create a highly powered resource based on quantum mechanics that can rapidly perform calculations regular computers would take several years to process.

The program will run for the next 12 years in collaboration with the Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen, with seven of these alone dedicated to developing the necessary hardware, materials and algorithms.

Quantum computing can enable the analysis of vast genomic datasets, unpack the complex relationships in the human microbiome and accelerate drug discovery, while also being able to address unmet environmental needs in climate change and the green transition.

“Within the life sciences, for example, we can accelerate development in personalized medicine by letting quantum computers process the enormous quantity of data available about the human genome and diseases. This will make it easier to tailor optimal treatment,” said Lene Oddershede, Novo Nordisk Foundation senior vice president in natural and technical sciences in a press statement.

“In the Quantum Computing Program, physicists and engineers will work closely with researchers from the life sciences on a daily basis. The development of the technology will be guided by concrete biological experiments and problems, and this close interdisciplinarity is a crucial parameter for success.”

Classic computers are powered by a central processing unit and compute using a digital format incorporating two states: 0 and 1.

In contrast, a quantum computer uses a quantum processing unit that consists of quantum bits, or qubits, that can exist as 0, 1 or a combination of these states, thereby providing extra possibilities.

Unlike traditional, physical computers, it is envisaged that the quantum computer could be located in a data center and accessible through a cloud to run computational tasks.

Part of the U.S. $200 million foundation grant will be used to found Quantum Foundry P/S, a partner company and fabrications facility that will develop and supply materials and hardware to build qubits for the first seven years of the grant.

In parallel, researchers will establish capabilities to co-engineer three of the most promising quantum computing platforms for assessment and possible further expansion.

The remaining five years of the project will involve scaling up the selected platform, so it is usable as a quantum computer to university and industry researchers.

The Program is projected to involve researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the U.S.A, as well as those from Delft University of Technology in The Netherlands, the Technical University of Denmark, Aarhus University, also in Denmark, and the University of Toronto in Canada.

“The challenge of the quantum computing program is enormous, in some ways it is similar to the challenge of the Apollo moon-landing programme in the 1960s,” said Professor Peter Krogstrup Jeppesen, from the University of Copenhagen, who is leading the Quantum Computing Programme, in a press statement.

He explained that the Novo Nordisk program differed significantly from other, ongoing quantum computing programs.

“The other major initiatives globally have already chosen their platforms and are trying to optimize them. But we predict that many will run into a dead end at a time when there will be fundamental limitations either in the quality of qubits or in terms of scaling up.

“We will spend seven years identifying the platform that offers the greatest opportunity to build a usable quantum computer.”

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