A quantum wake-up call for European CEOs


By Anika Pflanzer, Wolf Richter, and Henning So, McKinsey

Several recent breakthroughs in research on quantum computing and its industrial applications have reinforced its tremendous potential. The demonstration of large-scale quantum computers,1 research on noise-free quantum computation,2 and the implementation of commercial quantum computers are just a few examples that highlight exciting possibilities.

Despite the uncertainty of the timetable and the path forward, companies are salivating at the massive market opportunity that could be unlocked. For example, charge-transport modeling in the battery-technology business could be worth at least $5 billion yearly. Big pharma could apply quantum computing to protein structure and interactions, an opportunity worth $200 billion. Telecoms could use it to optimize their capital spending, worth a potential $50 billion to $70 billion. These applications are just a small sample of the value at stake.

In the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, Europe has made a significant push on investments in quantum computing, with Germany alone confirming €2 billion of funding.3 In the race to commercialization, however, Europe trails the United States and China, in part because of its significantly weaker coordination between research, start-ups, venture capital, and leading industries. To pursue this unique opportunity while avoiding long-term business implications in several core industries, European executives need to ensure their efforts are better integrated with ongoing initiatives in the public sector, develop a sufficient talent pipeline, and build partnerships.

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