Cancer is a dynamic disease. Despite all that we know about it, it still puzzles physicians, making it difficult to design the perfect therapy for those who are afflicted. A Chicago-based startup, Tempus, with Eric Lefkofsky as its co-founder and CEO, is doing everything in its power to change that by using big data analytics as a means to enhance the approach to cancer care.
It is becoming increasingly clear that, in order to treat cancer effectively, knowing what kind of cancer it is and what the symptoms are is not enough. Recent human genome advancements have dubbed cancer as a genetic disease, meaning that there is a set of mutations that result in dysfunctional cellular processes that eventually lead to it. Given all this, knowing a cancer patient’s genetic make-up, or simply the cancer mutations that they harbor, would be a powerful first step in the direction of a personalized or individualized treatment paradigm. It would help, of course, if that kind of patient data were stored in one place – together with all of the cancer patient’s other data – accessible to all health care staff that see that particular patient.
However, that is not the case.
While the progress in electronic health records has played a big role in the advancements in the health industry, the system has yet a long way to go. There is a discrepancy between collected patient data and the use of that information in designing effective treatments, and this is because not all patient data is accessible. Lefkofsky launched Tempus as a means to not only address this hurdle but also to fix the rift by providing a platform which would bring clinical records and molecular data closer together and as such optimize or personalize patient treatment. Patients’ molecular data at Tempus focuses on genes as targets for information.
As means of populating cancer patient data, the right questions have to be asked, according to Lefkofsky. Phenotypic, therapeutic and outcome response data encompasses answers to the following questions: Who is this patient? What drugs are they taking? How are they responding? And what’s their molecular composition? Once the answers are all in one place, some essential questions can be addressed in order to devise optimized treatment options for cancer patients that are based on the demographics of the patient population. Once some common denominators are delineated, it would be much easier for physicians to prescribe personalized therapies based on data that is available.
Lefkofsky wonders why all of the cancer patient data is not at the fingertips of physicians. “If you were to go into any of the cancer centers and ask who took Herceptin over two years and how they did, they’d need a grant and at least 90 days,” he noted. “That’s the sort of data that should flow freely between researchers, clinicians, and others.”
“And that’s the kind of data that should be flowing freely between not just the clinicians and researchers but also insurance companies, biotech companies – and the whole system is basically broken,” Lefkofsky explained on Wednesday at the Fortune Brainstorm Health conference in San Diego.
With Tempus, Lefkofsky offers an interactive and analytical machine learning platform that enables physicians to do exactly what cancer care therapy is missing, namely to deliver personalized cancer care for patients. Tempus achieves that by transforming unstructured data into a cleaned up and organized database replete with every patient’s information. The company produces molecular data by analyzing cancer patients’ DNA and RNA and as such uncovers more personalized treatment options and generates actionable insights for more impactful outcomes. The company’s goal is for each patient to benefit from the treatment of others who came before by providing physicians with tools that learn as Tempus gathers more data. In other words, it is as close as possible to making cancer a more effectively and efficiently treatable disease. This information is also beneficial for drug companies that pay for access to such data to improve drug development.
“My goal is to get most people starting in oncology and then those working on neurological disorders to use our platform to collect data for analysis,” Lefkofsky said. “If you talk CRISPR and personalized vaccines, they all need this data.” (CRISPR, short for “Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats,” refers to a bacterial defense system-based modern gene editing technique that holds promise for treatments of various diseases.)
Lefkofsky is one of Chicago’s most influential entrepreneurs. Since its founding in 2015, Tempus has already claimed a spot among Chicago’s top ten health techs. In addition to Tempus, Lefkofsky 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 also has several philanthropic engagements. 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, he and his wife have also been members of the Giving Pledge, whose members commit to donating half their wealth to philanthropic causes. 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 lefkofsky.com, LinkedIn: ericlefkofsky, Twitter: @lefkofsky or Facebook: @eplefkofsky. For more information on Tempus, please visit tempus.com, Facebook: @TempusLabs and Twitter: @TempusLabs.