One of the major challenges associated with cancer treatment is the organization and synthesis of massive amounts of clinical data. To address this problem, entrepreneur Eric Lefkofsky founded Tempus Inc, a technology company which aims to use big data and machine learning to analyze various types of cancer related data in order to help oncologists make more informed care decisions. Recently, Tempus unveiled a platform dubbed Tempus O, which structures clinical data for its partners. The platform is just one end of the service Tempus provides, which includes full DNA and RNA sequencing and sophisticated computational analysis of data compiled from disparate sources.
The utility of a system that analyzes large quantities of data relating to cancer treatment is clear. Currently, much of the potentially transformational data relating to cancer treatment is siloed in research databases and physician notes as well as electronic health records, many of which use mutually incompatible organizational structures. Because these databases are small, isolated, and often unstructured, their usefulness is limited, as breaking them down by variables such as cancer subtype, mutations, treatment, and outcomes yields results that are too small to use as effective bases for decision-making.
As cancer is a highly complex and varied disease, treatments that work well for some patients may fail to effectively treat others for reasons that are not immediately clear. Despite the apparent usefulness of a big data-driven approach to cancer treatment, the healthcare industry, itself a very complex and varied system, has historically failed to develop a satisfactory solution.
The health care industry is composed of physicians, regulators, researchers, professors, insurers, and other professionals, each with different incentives and behaviors. As such, the system is slow to adopt newer and more targeted strategies, which has a particularly negative effect in the treatment of diseases as complex as cancer. Instead, due to a lack of resources for processing information, physicians tend to apply “one-size-fits all” treatments which ignore the highly personal and specific needs of individual patients.
The obstacles faced by organizations which aim to analyze data concerning cancer treatment are many and, prior to the recent advancement of machine learning technologies, were insurmountable. Tempus is using data analysis procedures that have transformed other industries in the technology sector, such as optical character recognition and natural language processing. These advanced technologies are necessary for synthesizing the various types of data that Tempus collects, which includes physician notes and records designed to be used for medical billing. Tempus is also tasked with generating molecular data in-house through its genetic sequencing lab and integrating this data with its platform as a whole. In so doing, Tempus is able to generate a more complete timeline of patients’ medical histories, including individual genetic makeup, the development and progression of the disease, the combination of treatments applied, and the outcomes of these treatments.
The potential for data analysis of this type goes beyond making better treatment decisions for patients and includes augmenting understanding of the disease as a whole. By collecting molecular data, Tempus aims not only to predict the effectiveness of treatments on individual patients, but to develop a better understanding of why it is that these treatments are effective. Generating this insight would allow for the development of more targeted and effective drugs, bringing the company closer to its goal of diminishing cancer’s overall negative impact. For these reasons, Tempus has committed itself not only to building the world’s largest database of information relating to cancer treatment, but also to pioneering and advancing cutting-edge technology for making sense of that data and sharing it with interested parties.
Eric Lefkofsky is a philanthropist, entrepreneur, and CEO. As someone who has witnessed first-hand the effect cancer can have on a loved one, Lefkofsky is deeply motivated by a desire to transform the health care industry to improve patient outcomes. Additionally, Lefkofsky is motivated by a personal philosophy of results-oriented business practices, which has led to the success of many of his other ventures, including Groupon, Uptake Technologies, Mediaocean, Echo Global Logistics, and InnerWorkings, all of which he co-founded.
In 2006, he and his wife created the Lefkofsky Family Foundation, a charitable organization which aims to enhance the quality of human life by the most effective means possible. Additionally, Lefkofsky serves as a Trustee of Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, and has joined The Giving Pledge, a collection of wealthy people who have promised to donate the majority of their wealth over the course of their lives to philanthropic efforts.