Quantum sensing technology for the life sciences

by Edmund Owen | Jan 24, 2023

Weaving the complex threads that form the fabric of breakthrough innovation is one of the joys of being at CC. I work alongside talented, multidisciplinary teams of experts who inspire me and motivate me at every turn. A recent project to help influence the future of quantum sensing in medicine is a case in point. Cutting a long story short, we were able to combine our in-house knowledge of quantum physics and practical real-world quantum application with a deep understanding of the medical sector. That’s a potent mix.

To explain, let me rewind to early this year when CC was fortunate enough to begin a collaboration with the Swiss company Qnami, a renowned leader in quantum sensing technology. Their quantum microscopes incorporate nitrogen vacancy (NV) centres in a diamond atomic force microscope tip to offer extremely high sensitivity magnetic field measurements at an atomic scale.

The technology is currently most applicable to research activity, as well as some industrial R&D purposes. But Qnami were keen to identify other potential applications – particularly in the biomedical area – where NV magnetometry could provide clinical value and open new commercial avenues.

That’s a big ask, of course, but as a quantum physicist working in a commercial environment, I think it’s energising that we’re increasingly able to put the big “what if?” questions out there. We can argue at length about the plausibility of individual scenarios, but the sheer potential of quantum technology enables us to hypothesize. For example: “What if quantum computing could almost guarantee success for drugs in clinical trials, reducing cost and increasing the rate at which new diseases could be cured?” Or: “What if quantum encryption could ensure the absolute security of medical data?” And even: “What if quantum computers could tailor optimal personalised treatments, increasing the likelihood of a therapy being effective?”

Quantum sensor performance

What can’t be questioned is that using quantum effects to enhance sensing has the potential to increase sensor performance by orders of magnitude. This step-change in performance promises to enable new applications across many sectors, including in the life sciences. What exactly is quantum sensing? Essentially it is making use of quantum effects to achieve something that an ordinary sensor simply can’t. Take a standard clock. It runs to an accuracy of around a second a day. But an atomic clock based on a fundamental property of rubidium atoms can be accurate to one second in millions of years. Other types of sensors, which are being unlocked by advances in the research underpinning them, can achieve similar feats – detecting with a sensitivity and stability that has never been achieved before.

To unleash this potential, quantum sensing technologies are starting to move away from lab-based demonstrations towards robust products suitable for industrial applications. However, initial applications are often niche and typically serve research and development business functions. Finding market opportunities for new quantum sensing technologies which are commercially attractive and can generate significant value is critical for ensuring widespread uptake.

As I said at the top of the article, CC was able to respond to Qnami’s request with a unique set of skills. They combine an understanding of quantum sensing, deep medtech industry knowhow and technology insight, as well as strategic advisory services. We also had something of a head start in terms of potential applications and challenges through a number of internal and client projects.

Our project with Qnami began with a market opportunity identification exercise which involved three tasks

The impossible is about to become possible.


First, we familiarised ourselves with their core technology and captured key functional attributes. Second, we deployed CC experts to identify a shortlist of potential opportunity hypotheses in a biomagnetic imaging application (in other words where the technology could solve challenges in the life sciences). Finally, we assessed three of the most promising areas and analysed the opportunity for Qnami to understand the risk/reward profile.

The project is one I’m proud to add to CC’s record of championing and pioneering emerging technologies. We’re able to apply a wide range of specific skills and a comprehensive understanding of quantum physics to continue to push the boundaries. We have physicists who understand the fundamentals of quantum sensing – including the limitations and how to overcome them. We have engineers accustomed to developing products to work in any environment, with tight cost and performance constraints. And we have software and algorithm engineers, who can process highly complex data and convert it into insight that can be easily interpreted for decision making.

As I’ve already said, that’s a great environment to be a part of. Do email me if you’d like to discuss this topic, and if you have a moment please catch up on my recent article on the quantum sensing collaboration with Capgemini, part of the BMW Group Quantum Computing Challenge.

Expert authors

Senior Consultant - Quantum Technologies | View profile

Edmund works to combine his experience in modelling and quantum systems with the expertise of engineers, programmers and designers to develop quantum products which provide practical solutions to commercially and socially relevant problems. Edmund is also a member of UKQuantum’s Steering Committee.

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