Eric Lefkofsky, founder of Groupon, is now directing his expertise toward another endeavor, the fight against cancer. His new company, Tempus, is at the forefront of using big data processing to analyze cancer genomics and treatments and then to personalize cancer care for individual patients.
Big data is starting to become an integrated part of cancer study. Since the mapping of the human genome in 2003, the Federal Government began collecting specific anonymized data on cancer patients; the molecular structure of their cancer, their histories and their treatment. This past summer, The National Cancer Institute (NCI) launched the Genomic Data Commons, a free publicly accessible data base. The NCI hopes to have a collection of over a million comprehensive case studies within the next five years.
Speaking to a reporter, Eric Lefkofsky said “Physicians aren’t used to collecting that data at the outset of treatment…The possibility didn’t exist even 15 years ago. Sequencing somebody then would have cost millions of dollars, hundreds of millions even. Today the price is in the thousands of dollars—and falling.” He continued: “Where it gets clinically relevant is when you take that data and you actually help patients digest it and make decisions that impact what they do next. That’s what Tempus will do. We ask ourselves: How do you make this quantity of data digestible to an oncologist who has 50 patients at any given moment when their days are already overwhelming?”
Although the common belief is that cancer cells are defined by their location in the body, for example, lung cancer, liver cancer; the truth is more complex. Every cancer has its own genomic signature. Add that to the intricacies of patient health histories and different treatments, and there are numerous ways data can be analyzed to help develop courses of action tailored for specific patients.
Lefkofsky sees Tempus as a company that will utilize both technology and medical expertise, to improve patient outcomes. Earlier this year Lefkofsky hired Keven White, a top genetics researcher at the University of Chicago, to be Tempus’ president. Lefkofsky describes Tempus as a collaborative space “… you have computational biologists sitting next to software engineers, sitting next to data scientists, sitting next to operations folks, sitting next to physicians.” He added, “The amount of technology you use in deciding what movie to watch tonight is infinitely more powerful than the amount of technology we’ve been putting in the hands of physicians fighting cancer.”