Eric Lefkofsky is one of Chicago’s most influential innovators and the co-founder of Groupon, Echo Global Logistics, and InnerWorkings. His latest venture that uses “big data” to solve a problem is Tempus, a technology startup that takes advantage of the recent human genome sequencing, science and technology advances to advance cancer research and treatment.
Cancer is defined as uncontrollable cell growth that results in an accumulation of abnormal cells. This cell mass is also referred to as a tumor. Depending on its location as well as the speed of growth, or metastasis, cancer can be debilitating or deadly.
Furthermore, current cancer patient treatment is lacking. It is conducted as if every cancer can be grouped based on the organ from where it originates(e.g. breast cancer, lung cancer). However, every cancer patient’s situation is inherently unique and must be considered on an individual basis. Personalized medicine relies on the description of mutated genes to characterize each patient’s unique composition of therapeutic targets, and as such it takes into consideration the uniqueness of each cancer patient’s tumor. The first step in this process is molecular profiling of a tumor, or simply tumor profiling. With his startup, Tempus, Eric Lefkofsky focuses on genomic data sequencing as a way to personalize and thus advance the ways in which cancer treatment is tackled. Just like his other ventures, Lefkofsky states that Tempus is “trying to solve real problems.”
There are more than 100 different types of cancers, and for each type, there are multiple treatments as well as patients who have used each one with varying degrees of success. Patient treatment results are collected and stored at health centers where treatment took place, and this information is typically only accessible to the patient’s health care provider and nobody else. If the number of cancer patients is multiplied by the number of hospitals, clinics as well as offices of general practitioners, the complexity of the amassed information is quickly apparent and points to the biggest problem and one that Lefkofsky himself realized, namely data and how it is processed.
Patient treatment data is typically stored in the form of doctors’ notes, lab test results, diagnoses, remissions and exacerbations. And while the advancement of electronic records has fueled much progress in the health care industry, the system is not optimized. In fact, there is a disconnect between the collected data and how it is used in the development of effective customized treatment. In efforts to bridge that gap, Tempus has created a platform that relies on optical character recognition and natural language processing that is able to make sense of and optimize clinical data found in medical records.
Tempus also uses genomic sequencing, molecular science and Big Data analytics, and it states that it’s building “the world’s largest library of clinical and molecular data to personalize and improve cancer care.” The company collects a patient’s DNA and RNA samples for sequencing and pairs the data with the patient’s health and treatment history to help physicians and health care professionals take a more personal approach in their cancer treatment efforts. This, Lefkofsky hopes will be a step toward addressing the question of “Why do some patients respond well to a cancer therapy while others do not?” that he asks on his blog. In another statement, he highlights that “In oncology, and across healthcare more broadly, datasets have historically been small and disorganized,” and continues with “Thankfully, technology has opened the door to new possibilities and for the first time in history, it is possible to amass massive amounts of molecular and clinical data and put it to work for the benefits of patients.”
Lefkofsky co-founded Tempus with Brad Keywell, his long-time business partner. The two are Tempus’ largest individual investors. However, during its Series C funding round, they have recently raised $70 million for their Chicago-based Tempus. This amount is part of a larger total sum of $130 million raised since Tempus was first founded in 2015.
According to Crains, the funding comes from two investors, Revolution Growth and New Enterprise Associates (NEA), who have previously funded companies such as the stock trading app Robinhood (NEA), the salad chain Sweetgreen (Revolution) and the personal genomics firm 23andMe (NEA). Revolution Growth does not make many investments on a yearly basis. Its involvement encompasses only two to three investments per year, and it focuses on startups that are located outside Silicon Valley and New York City. NEA’s management stated that they are “thrilled to have led an investment in Tempus.” “Given NEA’s long and successful history investing in the intersection of technology and life science, we felt like the perfect strategic partner given Tempus’s mission to help doctors personalize care by collecting and analyzing large volumes of data.”
With Tempus, Lefkofsky’s business model mirrors that of his other ventures, namely using scale and organization in addressing problems that have been traditionally solved on an ad hoc basis. In addition to Tempus, Groupon, Echo Global Logistics and InnerWorkings, his other ventures include Lightbank, Uptake Technologies and Mediaocean.
Lefkofsky’s philanthropic efforts include the founding of the Lefkofsky Family Foundation together with his wife. Its primary aims are the advancement education, fundamental human rights, medicine, art and culture initiatives. Both have also committed to contributing nearly half their wealth to philanthropic causes through their membership at The Giving Pledge. Lefkofsky’s other involvements include being 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 Board of Trustees of the Steppenwolf Theatre Company that is based in Chicago.
Further Reading: https://www.dialdish.com/?s=eric+lefkofsky