Approaching Cancer via Data: What’s lacking? Eric Lefkofsky’s Quest for Answers

Eric Lefkofsky

Cancer is a complex beast. It basically tricks the body’s defense mechanisms into believing the detrimental cancerous processes are part of its normal functioning and thereby prevents them from shutting down the disease.


So how does one approach the battle against such a complex disease? Eric Lefkofsky has been tackling that question since 2015. The founder and CEO of Tempus Labs, one of Chicago’s top ten health techs, aims to improve the way cancer patients are diagnosed. His approach: data. More specifically, gathering, cleaning and organizing the vast amounts of cancer patient data which Tempus obtains through its collaborations with the nation’s top academic institutions as well as almost all of the NCI-designated comprehensive cancer centers. The ultimate goal is to personalize care for optimal cancer therapy and treatment.


Each patient’s treatment paradigms have been saved and stored in their medical records, but there has been a rift between patient data storage and access. As such, there is a vast amount of cancer patient treatment data from which physicians could learn, but as of yet no means to structure it so that it would give rise to patters, or common denominators, that could yield clues about therapies that have proven effective. Lefkofsky launched Tempus as a means to gather all these vast amounts of data into one centralized location by means of a machine learning platform which would bring clinical records and molecular data together. This, Lefkofsky hopes, would eventually lead to a more personalized and informed cancer therapy approach.


Gathering molecular data is one thing, but you also need clinical data. You need therapeutic and outcome response data,” Lefkofsky noted. By molecular data, Lefkofsky refers to a patient’s DNA and RNA makeup. Patients’ molecular data at Tempus focuses on genes as targets for information. It consists of genomic data, or the DNA sequences, that is obtained via sequencing and analysis methods.


The use of Tempus’ gene-sequencing and data analysis is part of the umbrella term of “personalized medicine” that the startup aims to enable for its cancer patients. Providing analytics has recently become a lot more accessible to companies that drive precision medicine. Even though it has been discussed since the mapping of the human genome more than a decade ago, it has yet to be widely practiced.


“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 stands for stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, and it refers to a promising gene editing technique for treatments of various diseases.)


Tempus is one of several ventures Lefkofsky has started. He is also the co-founder of Groupon, a global e-commerce marketplace platform, Echo Global Logistics, a technology-enabled transportation and logistics outsourcing firm, InnerWorkings, a global provider of managed print and promotional solutions, Lightbank, a venture fund focusing on disruptive technologies, Uptake Technologies, an analytics platform and Mediaocean, a media procurement technologies provider.


Lefkofsky has held teaching positions at the Kellstadt Graduate School of Business at DePaul University as well as at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. He is currently an adjunct professor at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business.


Lefkofsky is an avid philanthropist. Together with his wife, he founded the Lefkofsky Family Foundation that focuses on advancing high-impact initiatives in education, fundamental human rights, medicine, art and culture. The two are also members of The Giving Pledge. Lefkofsky is on the board of trustees of the Lurie’s Children’s Hospital of Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago, The Museum of Science and Industry and World Business Chicago. He is also the Chairman of the Chicago-based Board of Trustees of the Steppenwolf Theatre Company.


About Tempus

Tempus’ ultimate aim is to use big data analytics in order to facilitate cancer treatment by taking advantage of the recent human genome sequencing, science and technology advances. Tempus enables data to permeate cancer therapy and thereby unlocks the vast amounts of information from a large medical system. With technologies such as Tempus O, Tempus is hoping to extract patient information out of the disorganized and disconnected records and structure, cleanse and annotated the clinical data for easier access and comprehension. The technology is one segment of Tempus’ service repertoire that also encompasses complete DNA and RNA sequencing at its CAP/CLIA-certified laboratory facilities. The laboratory’s yearly processing capacity is data for 50,000 patients.


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


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