Eric Lefkofsky, founder and CEO of Tempus, a technology company that is taking on cancer by means of big data analytics, was featured as one of the many speakers at the Atlantic’s #PeopleVCancer. The platform brought together both cancer patients as well as individuals who have made powerful contributions to the advancement of cancer research, treatment and care.
Lefkofsky spoke with Dr. James Hamblin, the Atlantic’s senior editor, during a session called Mining Big Data. He discussed Tempus’ aims, efforts as well as present and future research endeavors. He highlighted that the company is ushering in precision medicine by trying to address the underlying data infrastructure in cancer. It is achieving that by combining mass amounts of phenotypic, morphologic, molecular and clinical data and using that to create an underlying data backbone that would make precision medicine real. Tempus’ hope is to ultimately build the world’s largest cancer information database that is accessible to stakeholders across the ecosystem. According to Lefkofsky, Tempus is among the first companies that is balancing an amalgam of operations (structuring data, generating large amounts of predominantly genomic data and utilizing machine learning) at scale. It is collaborating with most of the nation’s 69 NCI cancer care centers and approximately 200 hospitals.
“Being able to find cancer targets for which there is a therapy or being able to find a particular biomarker that would lead someone to a clinical trial or finding an indication that will direct someone to an immunotherapy that historically did not exist. Each of these has material benefits to patients,” Lefkofsky states.
He elaborated a bit further by commenting that Tempus uses data to generate aggregated insights to make the entire community smarter. The challenge for the industry, Lefkofsky commented, is to find a sustainable way to structure and cleanse that data that is currently largely unstructured. Tempus has built a model to structure that data in a sustainable way and provide insights, real-time, clinical decision support insights for physician, research, drug design.
Lefkofsky reasons that since companies get value in return for the information they provide to Tempus, they are ready to share their data. “Historically, in most industries, you get adoption of new technologies when that value equation is there. When you are offering something in return, that allows change to occur. This is never easy or pleasant. So, you cannot really talk people into changing. You have to create that motivation or incentive to want to do something different. Tempus has that equation,” he adds.
Lefkofsky spent the last two decades of his life structuring unstructured data as well as bringing technologies to industries that need it. As such, he is the founder of a few other companies whose aims in some form revolve around organizing large messy datasets. These include Groupon, Echo Global Logistics, InnerWorkings, Lightbank, Uptake Technologies, and Mediaocean. Each business model was founded based on the focus on using scale and organization in addressing problems that have been traditionally solved on an ad hoc basis.