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Quantum Computing Business Applications Are in Sight

A New $50 Billion Computing Market Is in Formation; Pharmaceutical and Chemical Companies Are Already Experimenting with the Potential to Accelerate Drug Discovery and Design Better Molecules, says BCG report

BOSTON—Long a dream for physicists and engineers, quantum computing may have practical business applications in industries such as pharmaceuticals and chemicals much sooner than many people think.  A market of $50 billion or more could easily develop around the futuristic computing capability in the next few decades as a pattern of S-curve adoption takes shape.

A report released today by The Boston Consulting Group’s Technology Advantage practice, Technology, Media and Telecommunication practice, and BCG Henderson Institute, The Coming Quantum Leap in Computing, argues that while the biggest potential for quantum computing is more than a decade away, business leaders should start watching now for key milestones indicating that quantum processors are approaching practical application supremacy—the ability to solve complex problems and perform simulations much faster than traditional binary computers—and start building internal quantum computing capabilities in their companies.

“Quantum computers work in the same way that the physical world works, which gives them the power to solve problems that today’s computers will never be able to tackle,” said Massimo Russo a BCG senior partner, BCG Henderson Institute fellow, and report coauthor. “Using quantum computers to model physical systems has immediate applications in R&D-intensive industries and can unlock value by vastly speeding up data-intensive applications in such fields as search, cryptography, and machine learning.”

Pharmaceutical and chemical companies are already experimenting with the potential of quantum simulation to accelerate drug discovery and design molecules with fewer unintended side effects. Quantum processors can simulate the highly complex interactions among molecules much faster and more effectively than traditional computers. Executives in these industries estimate that identifying new targets in this way could increase the rate of drug discovery by 5% to 10% and accelerate development times by 15% to 20%. They also believe that better molecule design could increase drug approval rates by a factor of 1.5 to 2.

In the US pharmaceutical sector alone, if quantum simulations of complex atomic processes were available today, and 10% of companies were willing to pay for the capability, quantum computing would represent a $15 to $30 billion addressable market opportunity. Currently, the market for all high-performance computing globally is $10 billion.

Quantum computing also can be applied to accelerate search and machine learning algorithms used with exponentially growing datasets. This will become increasingly important to unlocking the value of data, as the tens of billions of devices in the Internet of Things, for example, drive the volume of available data into the stratosphere.

BCG expects quantum computing to develop toward maturity over three generations spanning the next 25 years, but companies could be using early-generation machines to address practical business and R&D needs much sooner. A decade of steady progress in quantum computing will be followed by a significant acceleration after about 2030.  However, the timing of market development could vary widely depending on when the critical technical milestones are reached that unlock actual business-applicable computing capacity.

In a “base-case” scenario, the market for quantum applications would reach about $2 billion in 2035, then soar to more than $260 billion by 2050 as adoption picks up. An “upside” case, in which technological hurdles are surmounted sooner, would see a substantial market develop much quicker: about $60 billion in 2035, growing to $295 billion by 2050, which compares with an $800 billion global commercial and consumer computing market today.

“We are now at a point equivalent to the stage in early binary computer development when mechanical computers, vacuum tubes, and semiconductors vied for supremacy,” said Russo.  “But quantum computing is moving quickly from research labs to real-world applications. It has the potential to unlock significant value for companies in the next decade.”

A copy of the report can be downloaded here.

To arrange an interview with one of the authors, please contact Eric Gregoire at +1 617 850 3783 or

About the BCG Henderson Institute

The BCG Henderson Institute is the Boston Consulting Group’s internal think tank, dedicated to exploring and developing valuable new insights from business, technology, and science by embracing the powerful technology of ideas. The Institute engages leaders in provocative discussion and experimentation to expand the boundaries of business theory and practice and to translate innovative ideas from within and beyond business. For more ideas and inspiration from the Institute, please visit

About Boston Consulting Group

Boston Consulting Group (BCG) is a global management consulting firm and the world's leading advisor on business strategy. We partner with clients from the private, public, and not-for-profit sectors in all regions to identify their highest-value opportunities, address their most critical challenges, and transform their enterprises. Our customized approach combines deep insight into the dynamics of companies and markets with close collaboration at all levels of the client organization. This ensures that our clients achieve sustainable competitive advantage, build more capable organizations, and secure lasting results. Founded in 1963, BCG is a private company with offices in more than 90 cities in 50 countries.

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