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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The pharmaceutical giant Roche is partnering with a quantum computing startup to find new treatments for disease.

Why it matters: The ability of quantum computers to model reality at the most foundational levels positions it as an ideal tool for rapidly searching for new drugs — provided, of course, the computers themselves can work.

Driving the news: This morning Roche announced it would begin using specialized algorithms produced by Cambridge Quantum Computing (CQC) to simulate quantum-level interactions in an effort to research new treatments for Alzheimer's and other diseases.

How it works: CQC doesn't build quantum computers, which harness the weird workings of quantum mechanics to perform computation at extraordinary scales. Rather, it designs custom algorithms that can produce useful insights when run on a quantum computer.

  • Roche will use CQC's EUMEN quantum chemistry platform to simulate quantum-level interactions in an effort to identify molecular combinations that could prove effective against disease.
  • Finding a new drug is akin to searching for a needle in a haystack, but the sheer speed of quantum computers can accelerate that process, saving drug companies money and hopefully getting new treatments to patients faster.

Background: Roche had previously worked with graduate students at the University of Oxford on molecular simulations, while earlier this month the European drug discovery firm Boehringer Ingelheim announced a partnership with Google on quantum computing.

  • "Especially in chemistry and material science, the impact of quantum computing is going to be profound," Ilyas Khan, CQC's CEO, told Axios in an interview last year.

The catch: While powerful, quantum computers are still error-prone and unstable, which has limited their practical value.

  • That puts a premium on the development of custom algorithms that can get the most out of these systems.

The bottom line: As Khan told me, "ultimately you need a quantum system to understand a quantum system."

Go deeper

21 mins ago - World

At least 2 dead after Tonga volcano eruption and tsunami

A satellite image of the explosive eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano on Saturday. Photo: UNICEF/NOAA

At least two people are confirmed to have died in Tonga following the undersea volcanic eruption that sent tsunami waves toward the island nation and across the Pacific over the weekend, officials said Monday.

The big picture: Officials reported major damage along the western coast of the main island of Tongatapu, where the capital, Nuku'alofa, was covered in ash and dust, including on the runway of the airport. A New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson told Axios over the phone that two people had been confirmed to have died in the disaster.

Airlines call for Biden admin's "immediate intervention" in 5G deployment

Photo: Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The CEOs of leading U.S. air cargo and passenger carriers on Monday warned the Biden administration there could be "catastrophic disruption" after AT&T and Verizon deploy a new 5G service this week.

Driving the news: They said in a letter to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and other top federal officials ahead of the C-Band 5G service's deployment Wednesday that "the nation's commerce will grind to a halt" and "could potentially strand tens of thousands of Americans overseas."

Updated 4 hours ago - Energy & Environment

Thousands without power as "hazardous" winter storm lashes East Coast

Satellite imagery of the Northeastern U.S. taken by NOAA on Jan. 17. Photo: NOAA

A major winter storm lashed much of the East Coast Sunday and Monday, causing widespread power outages and disrupting travel over the holiday weekend.

The latest: Authorities in North Carolina confirmed that two people died in a car crash and that they responded 600 vehicle accidents during the storm on Sunday, per the Washington Post.