Eric Lefkofsky is the co-founder and CEO of Tempus, a big data technology company that utilizes a unique approach in the battle against cancer. The company enables physicians and health care workers to deliver personalized cancer care via an interactive analytical and machine learning platform.
Cancer is not just one disease. It is an umbrella term for several diseases that can start any place in the body. Some cancers grow and spread fast, while others grow more slowly. They also differ in the way they respond to treatment – while some cancers respond best to surgery, others are better treated with chemotherapy. Cancer begins when the body’s mechanism of shutting down dysfunctional cells is faulty, and as a result cells divide and amass out of control and outnumber healthy noncancerous ones, which makes it difficult for the human body to function the way it should. Cancer is also a genetic disease, meaning that it fundamentally begins in genetic dysfunctions of genes that are responsible for regulating cellular mechanisms such as growth and division. Cancer is so widespread that almost every one of us either knows or is related to someone who has suffered from it.
Yet, according to Lefkofsky, treatment options remain suboptimal “It’s almost impossible to pick up a newspaper without seeing an article describing some potential breakthrough in cancer. If all of the advancements mentioned in the articles lived up to half of their potential, cancer would already be a manageable nuisance, instead of the death sentence it far too often is. Somewhere between the stories we read and the reality we live, there is a disconnect.”
While Lefkofsky has been in technology for almost two decades, the lack of data and technology within clinical care did not become apparent until a loved one was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago. He feels that that “Asking doctors to treat cancer patients without the benefit of modern software is like asking someone to drive at night with no headlights. It’s reckless.” He further urges everyone “As consumers of health care, we should demand more. We must empower physicians to make real-time, data-driven decisions. Integrating genomic sequencing with clinical data will allow us to learn from the millions of people diagnosed with cancer every year. Knowing how patients were treated and how they responded will improve the care for everyone that comes after them.”
Tempus provides an approach to cancer treatment whereby options and approaches are based on big data and technology. According to him, the biggest hurdle to personalized cancer treatment is not that there is not enough data, algorithms, analytics and software available to doctors treating patients but the fact that they all remain disconnected. “Without an operating system that brings these tools together, the promise of personalized medicine will remain just a promise.” Lefkofsky founded Tempus in 2015. The company collects a patient’s DNA and RNA samples for sequencing – it provides genomic and transcriptomic sequencing services as well as analyses of somatic and germline molecular data. It also pairs the data with the patient’s health and treatment history via an interactive analytical and machine learning platform. This bridges the gap between patient data and personalized cancer care and as such helps physicians and health care professionals take a more individualized approach in their cancer treatment efforts. Lefkofsky states that “The key to more personalized and precise care and eventual cures for diseases such as cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s lies largely in our ability to use big data, artificial intelligence and machine learning to better understand the diseases’ genetically based algorithmic patterns.”
Despite cancer’s complexity, Lefkofsky is confident in his battle against the disease. He writes that “Cancer has the fortitude of millions of years of evolution on its side. To better treat those who suffer from it – and one day eradicate it entirely – we need to reimagine how we battle the disease. We need the power of big data on our side. Asking doctors to treat patients with anything less is simply unacceptable.”
In addition to Tempus, Lefkofsky has co-founded 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 is the author of Accelerated Disruption: Understanding the True Speed of Innovation. He has also 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’s philanthropic endeavors include the Lefkofsky Family Foundation that he founded in 2006 together with his wife. The foundation’s primary aim is the advancement of high-impact initiatives in education, fundamental human rights, medicine, art and culture that enhance lives in the communities that are served. The two are also members of The Giving Pledge, whereby they have committed to contribute nearly half their wealth to philanthropic causes. Lefkofsky is also 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.