While you’re reading this, pharmaceutical companies are testing and developing over 400 different drugs and vaccines to fight infectious diseases ranging from HIV to tuberculous to COVID-19. Many of these drugs you will not hear about for another decade. During this early testing phase—years before these drugs are ready for the public or even ready for testing in potential patients—a Happy Valley life science software company is helping pharma researchers determine which drugs will work versus which could harm. 

“We are helping pharmaceutical companies determine molecular structures accurately and quickly,” says Lance Westerhoff, president and general manager of QuantumBio. “Our computational diagnostics not only test for structural defects, but also enable scientists to better predict structures and molecular complexes.” 

QuantumBio was founded based on technologies developed between 1995 and the mid-2000s at Penn State University, while Westerhoff was a grad student in the lab of Dr. Kenneth Merz, Jr. In 2003, QuantumBio grew into a startup with help from the Life Sciences Greenhouse of Central Pennsylvania, Ben Franklin Technology Partners and investments from family and friends. The company started out bringing highly accurate methods to pharmaceutical research through quantum mechanics, and has evolved by adding cutting-edge tools to improve structural refinement and better simulation methods for drug discovery scientists and those in life science fields.

One such tool is crystallographic methods, which improves drug models used in pharmaceutical research. QuantumBio’s most recent addition, Moveable Type, is a sampling methodology based on free energy that solves a decades-long problem of time-intensive computational processing in early-stage industrial drug discoveries. 

“It’s interesting to follow the science to see how we’ve grown as a company,” Westerhoff says. “We started out by using quantum mechanics as a drug candidate scoring method to create software that is faster and more accurate than anything else out there. In fact, it was so sensitive that it was really adept in finding structural defects in the drug candidates. So we went on to create patented solutions to help researchers produce more accurate structures in order to determine which compounds are good candidates. And most recently we’ve added cutting-edge, high-throughput free energy methods to the mix, which will build on this history and revolutionize the structure-based drug discovery and design process.”

He says the new additions like crystallographic methods help clients further improve their models and compounds. “By helping scientists understand biochemical structure and function, our technology can enhance the drug discovery process,” Westerhoff says. 

The precision diagnostics that the company offers is used by other bioscience companies as well. One client is using it in conjunction with AI technology, while another is researching the effectiveness of pesticides against plant disease. It’s also offered at no cost to academic institutions, where it aids student researchers around the country and the world.

Westerhoff says that growing QuantumBio in Happy Valley has been integral to its success. “There has been so much support to help our company grow,” he says. “From SBIR grants to the Life Sciences Greenhouse of Central PA to Ben Franklin to the Chamber of Commerce. That kind of support would be challenging to replicate somewhere else.” 

He says that in bigger cities, startups are expected to run their own show, but within Happy Valley, technology companies support each other. “It’s a close-knit community with some very intelligent people. There is a culture of help here.”

Westerhoff says that growing QuantumBio in Happy Valley has been integral to its success. “There has been so much support to help our company grow,” he says. “From SBIR grants to the Life Sciences Greenhouse of Central PA to Ben Franklin to the Chamber of Commerce. That kind of support would be challenging to replicate somewhere else.” 

He says that in bigger cities, startups are expected to run their own show, but within Happy Valley, technology companies support each other. “It’s a close-knit community with some very intelligent people. There is a culture of help here.”

Today, QuantumBio’s core team continues to collaborate with academic researchers, software developers and pharmaceutical scientists as they test tomorrow’s medicines. They are excited to continue accomplishing the goal of understanding biochemical structure and function in drug discovery in increasingly rigorous ways, like free energy methods, which are much more simulation-oriented. These virtual simulations are much lower-cost and higher-speed than traditional ‘wet chemistry,’ helping pharmaceutical scientists derisk and accelerate projects. 

“We are excited to keep adding more tools to the toolbox in drug discovery,” Westerhoff says.