You may not automatically think of artificial intelligence (AI) or quantum computing when you think of biotech giant Moderna (MRNA -2.21%). You might think more about coronavirus vaccines and traditional laboratory work. After all, Moderna is a leading coronavirus vaccine maker today.

But Moderna actually has made bold steps into the world of AI. The company used AI in the early development of its coronavirus vaccine and even for other business purposes. Now, it's taking things a step further. Moderna recently signed a deal with International Business Machines (IBM -1.19%) to use quantum computing and AI to boost its messenger RNA research. Can this be a game changer for the company? Let's find out.

Giving the body instructions

First, a bit of background on Moderna's mRNA technology. The company doesn't have to grow viruses in a lab to make vaccines. Instead, Moderna produces mRNA that will then give the body instructions to prevent or treat a particular illness. Already, this is a faster process than traditional vaccine production.

But AI has helped Moderna make it faster. Dave Johnson, chief data and AI officer at Moderna, a while back offered MIT Sloan Management Review an idea of how AI already has boosted the company's processes. By using AI and automation, the company went from making about 30 mRNAs a month for use in experiments to one thousand, he said. AI also has helped generate better mRNA sequence design, saving researchers a lot of time.

And the company even used machine learning to help it predict call volume at its call centers.

Now, moving along to the IBM deal. IBM says its generative AI for therapeutics could help Moderna researchers learn more about how molecules behave -- and this may help them design new ones. And IBM's quantum computing expertise may help the biotech speed up the discovery of new treatments.

Quantum computing is based on a branch of physics that explores the behavior of matter. It uses these principles to solve problems ordinary computers can't.

Specifically, Moderna will have access to MoLFormer, an AI model that can help predict a molecule's properties. This could be useful in better understanding a product candidate. Moderna plans to use MoLFormer to help it perfect the lipid nanoparticles that encapsulate its mRNA treatments.

A goal of "breakthrough advances"

Moderna Chief Executive Officer Stéphane Bancel said his goal is "breakthrough advances" thanks to these technologies. And he aims to build "a quantum-ready workforce."

The company earlier this year announced the opening of new offices and the creation of jobs -- and the new office in Seattle will focus on further integrating AI into Moderna's work.

Now, let's get back to our question. Could these moves be a game changer for Moderna? Over time this focus on AI could very well be big for the biotech company. We've seen examples of how it's already boosted Moderna's processes -- both in and out of the lab. So, there's reason to believe the company can make further improvements through the use of IBM's platforms.

Efficiency, speed, and precision all are very important in drug and vaccine development. So any gains in those areas could make a huge difference for Moderna.

No, we won't see the fruits of the effort right away. But that's OK. Moderna may benefit from this investment down the road. That's why, as investors, we shouldn't worry too much about Moderna's share-price fluctuations today -- or declines in coronavirus vaccine revenue.

Instead, we should consider these positive steps the company is taking that may lead to future growth. And from that perspective, you'll probably want to hold on to Moderna stock for the long term.