Tempus, Eric Lefkofsky, and the Rise of Data-Enabled Precision Medicine

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Eric Lefkofsky

With nearly 40 percent of adults in the U.S. facing a cancer diagnosis at some point in their lives, everyone knows someone who has fought a battle against this terrible disease. According to the National Cancer Institute, approximately 14.5 million U.S. citizens were living with cancer in 2014. That figure is expected to jump to more than 19 million by the year 2024. Thanks to amazing advances being made by companies like Tempus, however, the prognosis is looking better. Co-founded by Eric Lefkofsky, a co-founder of Groupon, Tempus is leading the charge in data-enabled precision medicine.

Since so much fuss was made about the development of electronic health records, or EHRs, it would appear that the healthcare industry is at least somewhat up to speed with modern technology. Unfortunately, however, that is far from the case. Until his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer, Eric Lefkofsky had never had a real up close and personal experience with cancer treatment. He was shocked to learn about the gaping hole that exists in the field in terms of data collection and digital technology. Despite the copious amounts of data that are generated and collected about patients and their treatments, there has never been an effective, streamlined way to corral that information and to make effective use of it.

That is where Tempus comes into play. The firm had a lofty and impressive goal: To transform the way cancer care is delivered. The company has developed a platform that effectively analyzes a patient’s clinical and molecular data. The company had the means to develop the analytics software, but accessible and affordable clinical and medical data was initially an issue.

Another hurdle that Tempus had to overcome involved the way in which crucial information is collected and stored about cancer patients. Most of the time, this information is in the form of physician notes, which may also be referred to as progress notes. These are typically free text fields, so they are difficult to capture and analyze. Tempus developed software that includes natural language processing and optical character recognition capabilities. At long last, the text fields with the most pertinent notes could be transformed into structured data that can then be used to advance cancer treatment and care.

With molecular data, we are primarily talking about genomic information that is gathered through human genome sequencing. This process has been around for some time. It used to be prohibitively expensive; in 2003, when the genome was first mapped, the process cost upwards of $100 million. Thanks to many advances in science and technology, the same sequencing can now be accomplished at a cost of around $5,000. Soon enough, however, the cost is expected to plunge even lower thanks to efforts of companies like Tempus, who are committed to driving the price down. .

Now, why is it so crucial to the success of Tempus to promote human genome sequencing? Increasingly, cancer research is focusing on fighting the disease on the molecular and cellular levels. Human genes hold clues for a variety of things that can make it easier and more effective to fight diseases like cancer. The work that is being performed by Eric Lefkofsky and Tempus allows clinical information about a patient to be combined with molecular information that has been gathered through genome sequencing. As more and more data like this is paired, compared and analyzed, researchers hope to unlock many secrets about combating diseases like cancer.

In the future, Eric Lefkofsky and others at the forefront of data-enabled precision medicine believe that through technologies like the Tempus platform, doctors will be able to more accurately pair cancer patients with effective treatments. They will be better able to determine which medicines and treatments are likely to work and which aren’t. Because all of this information is updated continually and is readily available at all times, doctors will be able to make real-time decisions regarding the treatment of not only cancer but of countless other diseases and conditions.

Eric Lefkofsky’s journey to becoming a co-founder of Tempus has been an interesting one. Born in September 1969, the native of Southfield, Michigan, Lefkofsky hasn’t even reached the age of 50 yet and has already accomplished far more than most people will in their lifetimes. Lefkofsky graduated from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor with high honors in 1991. Two years later, he earned his Juris Doctor degree from the University of Michigan Law School. Despite his educational attainments, he didn’t go into law. Rather, he got swept up in the dot-com revolution, and he quickly emerged as a power player.

Although his roots are in Michigan, Eric Lefkofsky has spent most of his adult life in the Chicago area. This is where Tempus is headquartered, and it is where Lefkofsky spends the vast majority of his time. Currently, he serves on the boards of directors of Lurie’s Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago, the Art Institute of Chicago, and is also Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company.

Through the years, Lefkofsky has held teaching positions at DePaul University’s Kellstadt Graduate School of Business and at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. Currently, he is an adjunct professor at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business.

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