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Avoiding quantum “POCitis”: Five best practices life sciences organizations can embrace at the outset of every quantum computing proof of concept

Sam Genway
2 Nov 2022

As enthusiasm for quantum technology within the life sciences industry continues to grow, many organizations are eager to explore the value of this nascent technology through a proof of concept (POC)

But, if we’ve learned anything from the AI and big data programs of the recent past, it’s that organizations that complete a proof of concept without a clear plan for how to draw insights from the project, and build upon its success, may find themselves in a state of “POC purgatory” -a place where completed programs sit idly, their insights going unused by the business. Companies who do this repeatedly may come down with a case of what we call “POCitis.”

POCitis [pok-ahy-tis] (n.) A condition affecting life sciences organizations that repeatedly conduct proofs of concept (POCs) but fail to derive meaningful value from such programs.

While the purpose of pilots and POCs is to grant life sciences organizations the opportunity to explore emerging technologies and test their feasibility, it is crucial to design, launch, and operate these programs in a way that draws value and builds on success. In this post, our experts outline five best practices that organizations should consider when designing impactful and effective quantum computing POCs.

1. Define what success looks like – and what you will do if the program succeeds

At the outset of every POC, it is essential to ask one seemingly simple question: What will we do if this program succeeds?  This is something that we press our life sciences clients to ask as they begin to explore this exciting new technology. Addressing this question helps companies think about quantum POCs not as short-term isolated experiment-based projects, but long-term investments that help establish the foundation of the broader quantum strategy.

It also prompts the business to focus on impact and consequences – the problems quantum technology can solve – as opposed to simply proving out the capabilities of the technology. Put another way, it is an opportunity to focus attention within the community on the optimal tasks and, as a result, potentially bring the advantage of quantum closer.

2. Think big and embrace visionary programs

Organizations that undertake a quantum POC must understand that this technology is an entirely different class of applications and hardware. It is not simply the next generation of computers that can tackle the same problems, faster, but rather a new paradigm. And POCs need to reflect that fact.

To that end, life sciences companies need to think strategically when selecting use cases. A proof of concept is a place to explore the visionary potential of the technology and identify the impact that it could have on the business. While companies need to place their bets in sensible places, they also need to recognize the power of the technology and pursue those projects that truly take advantage of this advanced capability. 

For example, in life sciences, this may mean not just understanding whether an assay could be replaced with a simulation, but rather exploring how the end-to-end drug discovery and development workflow could be transformed. Perhaps the simulation can be performed earlier in the pipeline than the experiment would have been, thus enabling molecules to fail more quickly and cheaply. It is important to keep in mind that a key part of a POC is to discover new use cases and determine where the advantage can be leveraged. In this way, conducting a POC is an important step towards tackling what is seemingly impossible today.

3. Take the long-term approach

By all accounts, quantum technology is still maturing, so it will take several years before the technology is ready for deployment. With that in mind, companies need to ensure that any POC is aligned with the organization’s overarching quantum strategy and that it serves to advance that program. The goal is not to simply push POCs through the process, but rather to launch a series of programs that incrementally build maturity and create the insights, skills, and capabilities that organizations can use in the long-term. Companies need to focus on the opportunities or scenarios that bring value to the business and build upon the gains of past programs.

As we saw with AI in years past, there is a real danger of companies pursuing the most impressive program or largest demonstration with current hardware, just to achieve proverbial bragging rights. While exciting, this is unlikely to provide the long-term understanding that will truly help advance the business. Meanwhile, since we are not yet in the era of advantage from quantum computers, these projects will not offer competitive performance relative to today’s state-of-the-art classical approaches.

Finally, another important element of a POC is that it should help identify issues that need to be addressed in order to deploy the technology at scale at a later date. At this point, a huge part of the value of quantum POCs is in drawing out interesting lessons about what this technology means for the classical computation components that wrap around quantum computation. For example, in one recent aerospace POC, the company learned that in speeding up quantum components, it created unexpected bottlenecks in classical computation components. By taking this wider vision of what quantum means, it’s possible to begin to identify the ripple effect that quantum can and will have on the business in the future and how to reshape existing processes to be ready.

4. Remember that value comes in different forms

Although scientific insight is fundamental to progress in the life sciences, companies need to be mindful that the value of a POC is not just technical in nature. While some POCs may result in critical scientific advantages, there are other “soft” or less tangible benefits that could be brought to the organization, especially at the early stage. This includes implications for how the organization recruits talent, trains people, structures teams, and forms partnerships.

While these issues may seem like afterthoughts within the overall quantum strategy, they are in fact central to the organization’s success. What’s more, they often take years to build, which means organizations need to start today; more importantly, they need to have a clear sense of what they need to do – and why.

In conducting a POC, the business can begin to get a sense of how the organization needs to evolve and invest to support this technology in the future. Even if the project does not produce anything immediately impactful in a technical sense, the value of the POC can be measured in other ways, like new insights, deeper experience, or enhanced skills. This will help justify continued investment and help set up future POCs to deliver more value to the business.

Life sciences organizations should be aware that using quantum technology in a POC today could also help hardware producers better understand business needs and applications and build solutions accordingly. Careful engagement and publicity of a successful POC has the benefit of shaping the quantum computing future not just for the company, but also for the industry.

5. Choose a quantum partner wisely

Finally, since most companies are still in the process of building their internal quantum teams and capabilities, it is important to choose partners that can support the organization on their journey. This doesn’t just mean selecting a company that has the requisite technical skills, but also the industry expertise to understand how the technology can be applied to sector-specific use cases and other skills specific to the life sciences domain.

The success of the POC depends in part on how well the team understands the core issues and challenges that the business is trying to solve. It is important to engage a team of experts that will ask the right questions to help the business identify the ideal quantum use cases.

For the life sciences industry, there is no doubt that quantum technology will in the future play a transformational role in drug development, helping companies bring new drugs to market more quickly and cost effectively, and with fewer late-stage failures. While many companies may be eager to explore the benefits of this technology, resulting in possibly isolated research programs, it is important to remember that the real value will come through a strategic and comprehensive effort that builds on the success of these projects and embraces the technology as it continues to advance.

Ready to take the next step in creating effective and impactful quantum POCs? Capgemini can help. Reach out to our team of experts to begin exploring your quantum future.

Authors: Sam Genway, with contributions from Gireesh Kumar Neelakantaiah, James Cruise and Mark Roberts

Sam Genway

Emerging Technologies Lead at Hybrid Intelligence, Head of Industries at Capgemini Quantum Lab
Sam leads quantum computing R&D at Capgemini’s Quantum Lab. With a background in theoretical quantum physics, he co-founded an accelerator on emerging technologies within Capgemini and has worked with several of the largest, most innovative companies to develop their capabilities and enhance their operations. Sam holds an MSci from the University of Cambridge and a PhD in Theoretical Physics from Imperial College London.

Gireesh Kumar Neelakantaiah

Global Strategy, Capgemini’s Quantum Lab
Leading go-to-market initiatives for the Quantum Lab, including solution development, strategic planning, business and commercial model innovation, and ecosystem partner and IP licensing management; Skilled in Quantum computing (IBM Qiskit), Data science, AI/ML/Deep learning, Digital manufacturing & Industrial IoT, Cloud computing.