When most people think of the fight to cure cancer, they envision laboratories and hospitals full of busy, working scientists and doctors. However, the fight extends far beyond the worlds of science and medicine. Much has been made about the promise of “big data” in terms of how it will transform the way that we use the internet, but the real excitement lies in how it will transform health care. The fight against cancer is increasingly happening on the molecular level, so data collection is incredibly important. One of the leaders in this fight is Eric Lefkofsky–yes, the same Eric Lefkofsky who co-founded Groupon.
To understand what is happening in the world of data-enabled precision medicine, it helps to focus on specific organizations that are leading the way. Tempus, a Chicago-based tech company, is an excellent example. Co-founded by Eric Lefkofsky in 2015, the tech firm is currently busy developing the world’s largest library of molecular and clinical data. It is also developing an operating system that makes all of that data accessible and useful.
How did the man who helped to found Groupon, one of the most wildly successful online marketplaces in the world, find himself founding a company like Tempus? Although he is a consummate business professional, Lefkofsky’s reasons for moving into this sphere were personal. A few years back, a family member was diagnosed with breast cancer. Even though she received care from some of the best hospitals, Eric Lefkofsky was dismayed by how little of her care was informed by modern technology.
As a result, Eric Lefkofsky learned that there is a gaping hole in the world of cancer research: Despite the fact that useful data is constantly being generated, collected and even stored, there is no simple, streamlined way to make sense of it. Lefkofsky saw this for what it was: a missed opportunity. More importantly, while copious amounts of clinical data are collected about a single cancer patient, it is rarely if ever compared with relevant molecular data. By bridging this gap through genome sequencing and other technologies, Tempus technologies help doctors to make more informed decisions.
What exactly does Tempus do to advance the treatment of cancer? Right now, Eric Lefkofsky and his team are fine-tuning an end-to-end analytics platform that provides real-time information to doctors that connects clinical data with molecular data. Through collaborations with scientists, physicians, software engineers and countless others, Tempus has already developed the largest public library of clinical and molecular data. Eric Lefkofsky hopes that before too long, genome sequencing will be as ubiquitous as drawing blood and other types of standard tests.
Through information that is gleaned from the Tempus platform, doctors will be better able to deliver personalized care to cancer patients. Through the analysis of genomic information as well as clinical data, physicians will be able to pinpoint treatments that specifically address a patient’s genetic needs. As more and more information is gathered about the effects of various treatments on the molecular level, it will become easier and easier to identify effective treatments for people who suffer from all kinds of cancer.
Over the last 10 years or so, the healthcare industry has largely moved from paper records to electronic health records. While it would seem that these electronic records have helped to advance these causes, the truth is that they are really missed opportunities to people like Eric Lefkofsky. The EHRs that have been adopted were primarily developed to streamline things like billing and insurance processing. Unfortunately, they were not developed with things like medical research in mind. As a result, even though hundreds of millions of such records already exist, they are largely useless.
It won’t be surprising, then, if work by firms like Tempus prompts changes in the ways in which electronic medical records are used. Eventually, such records will likely include genome sequencing information of the kind that is being gathered, stored and analyzed by Tempus technology. As more and more information about various types of cancer is gathered and analyzed, important information about how cancer happens on the molecular level will be revealed. This includes the ways in which cancer cells and tumors respond to various treatments as well as how genetic errors prompt the development of certain kinds of cancer.
Given his history, it seems like a bit of an anomaly that someone like Eric Lefkofsky is at the forefront of cancer research and treatment. Born in 1969, Lefkofsky has accomplished a great deal in the less than 50 years that he has been alive. A native of Southfield, Michigan, he attended the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where he graduated with honors in 1991. From there, he attended the University of Michigan Law School, graduating with a J.D. in 1993. Not long after graduating, he got involved in a business venture with a friend and quickly made a name for himself in the emerging dot-com economy.
Eric Lefkofsky has successfully founded and helped to found numerous innovative companies during his career. These include Mediaocean, a media buying tech firm, and Echo Global Logistics, a freight logistics firm. These experiences afforded him with crucial connections in the tech industry, and he now uses those connections to help advance the work of Tempus. A philanthropist at heart, Lefkofsky and his wife Liz donate millions of dollars to charities through their organization, the Lefkofsky Foundation.
Today, Eric Lefkofsky is known for not only being a highly influential Chicago tech figure but for being a generous visionary. He serves on the boards of directors of the Art Institute of Chicago and Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago, among others. He is also an adjunct professor at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. He and his wife are members of The Giving Pledge and have pledged to donate at least half of their wealth over the course of their lifetimes. Lefkofsky is still a young man, and it will be interesting to see what else he does to help the world in the future.
Further Reading: Fortune