Eric Lefkofsky’s Battle Against Cancer Using Precision Medicine and Big Data Analytics

Diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer’s have plagued the health care system for quite some time.


More personalized and precise care as well as eventual cures depend in part on the ability to use big data, artificial intelligence and machine learning to better understand the diseases’ genetically based algorithmic patterns.


Eric Lefkofsky is addressing this computational problem with Tempus Labs, a Chicago-based technology firm that he founded in 2015. Tempus’ aim is to merge, consolidate, clean up and digitize each cancer patient’s health information so that so physicians can learn from the data and use it to help future patients. Tempus would add molecular data by means of DNA/RNA sequencing that it offers in-house. It has established a series of data pipelines to collect, cleanse, and analyze clinical and molecular data in an effort to usher in precision medicine.


The aim is for each cancer patient’s clinical and molecular data to be in one place. This enables physicians to make real-time, data-driven decisions. Data integration enables them to learn from the millions of patients that are diagnosed with cancer each year. By knowing how they were treated as well as how they responded, physicians are able to make more informed treatment decisions for all the patients that come after them.


Tempus has already earned a spot among Chicago’s top ten health techs as well as unicorn funding status. It has established partnerships with several healthcare organizations and academic institutions and nearly all of the National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers. Those institutions’ oncologists send their patients to Tempus for genomic sequencing. The health tech then pairs molecular and clinical information and generates a report that goes back to the physicians’ offices and grants them access to Tempus’ operating system. That way, doctors can see what mutations a patient has and which treatment options have shown to be effective in the past with that specific mutation.


Alzheimer’s disease, however, is only beginning to be viewed as a disease that could benefit from big data. The government and the scientific community have proposed a new way to define the disease, namely based on biological markers, such as brain changes. This is a different approach to the methods that are currently in use, such as looking for memory loss and other symptoms of dementia. This also means that patients could be picked for and enrolled in studies much sooner in the course of the disease.


This is a big step ahead for Alzheimer’s diagnosis and treatment. So far, patients have been receiving diagnosis very late in the disease progression. According to Dr. Eliezer Masliah, neuroscience chief at the Institute on Aging, “By the time that you have the diagnosis of the disease, it’s very late.”

“What we’ve realized is that you have to go earlier and earlier and earlier,” just as doctors found with treating cancer, he said.

Another problem is the nearly 30 percent of individuals that are part of Alzheimer’s studies based on symptoms when they do not actually have the disease but other forms of dementia or even other medical conditions. This is not a clear and accurate foundation for a treatment and its prognosis as it is not actually based on a ‘true’ Alzheimer’s condition. The new definition aims to improve patient selection by using brain scans and other tests.

“We need more people in this pre-symptomatic stage” to see if treatments can help stave off decline, Masliah said.

About Eric Lefkofsky

Lefkofsky is one of Chicago’s most influential entrepreneurs. He is the co-founder of Lightbank, the co-founder and chairman of Groupon, the co-founder of Uptake Technologies, Mediaocean, Echo Global Logistics and InnerWorkings. Lefkofsky has several philanthropic engagements, as well. He is the Trustee of the Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago, the Art Institute of Chicago, The Museum of Science and Industry and World Business Chicago. He also serves as the Board of Trustees’ Chairman of Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company. Furthermore, he and his wife Liz co-chair the Lefkofsky Family Foundation that supports high-impact initiatives that improve lives in the communities served. Since 2013, the two have also been members of the Giving Pledge. Lefkofsky currently holds an adjunct professorship at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. Lefkofsky obtained his Juris Doctor at the University of Michigan Law School. He is the author of Accelerated Disruption: Understanding the True Speed of Innovation.


For more information on Eric Lefkofsky, please visit, LinkedIn: ericlefkofsky, Twitter: @lefkofsky or Facebook: @eplefkofsky. For more information on Tempus, please visit, Facebook: @TempusLabs and Twitter: @TempusLabs.

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