Cancer is a complex disease to understand and let alone treat. With the many types of cancers and the different patient responses, finding cancer therapy has been one of the biggest challenges to the health care industry. Why is it that some patient respond to oncology drugs and other do not?
With his latest venture, Tempus, a technology company that is taking on cancer via big data analytics, Eric Lefkofsky (https://www.americaninno.com/chicago/tag/eric-lefkofsky/) has been trying to address that million-dollar question since 2015. When asked about Tempus, Lefkofsky states that the company’s goal is to improve the way decisions are made. “We simply focus on how can we bring technology to the hands of physicians and make their days easier.”
The question of why there is such a large discrepancy in patient response to cancer therapy has been haunting every individual whose life has been touched by cancer in some shape or form from research companies, to researchers and health care personnel to physicians and patients. The most frustrating part about the approach to answering these questions is that many of the answers are buried deep in electronic health records and unsynchronized health systems.
Tempus enables data to permeate cancer therapy and thereby unlocks the vast amounts of data that has thus far been “locked inside a large medical system. With Tempus O, the Chicago, Illinois-based Tempus is hoping to extract patient information out of the disorganized and disconnected records and structure, cleanse and annotate the clinical data for easier access and comprehension. The technology that can structure data is one segment of Tempus’ service repertoire that also encompasses complete DNA and RNA sequencing at its CAP/CLIA-certified laboratory facilities. According to Lefkofsky “In order to really understand what is going on at the patient level, you have to combine that data with molecular data.” And this is the biggest problem that needs to be addressed in order to make personalized medicine a reality in cancer therapy. In hopes to bridge the gap between the two, Lefkofsky based Tempus on a software platform that relies on optical character recognition and natural language processing that gathers electronic healthcare records from several medical institutions and transforms them into structured data.
“People want to structure this data clinically because they believe that having that data at their fingertips will help them provide better care to their patients,” Lefkofsky said in a phone interview with MedCity News. “And people want to structure that data for research because, obviously, it’s paramount for them to understand: Are there particular characteristics leading some people to have outsized positive or outsized negative responses to any therapeutic?”
Lefkofsky believes that 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. Tempus O taps into some sophisticated workflow tools, including optical character recognition and natural language processing. First it gathers electronic health care records from Tempus’ partner institutions, extracts meaning from the text and transforms all that into structured data. All that is compared and organized within a larger dataset, along with insights from research databases, images, and scans. This is all designed to take place at scale so that it powers real insights. Tempus also built a team of abstractors that can manually input data when necessary and review the finished work.
“As a company, we’re most interested in the combination of both the clinical data and the molecular data,” Lefkofsky said. “When you have the molecular data you can also answer the holy grail question, which is ‘why.’ Why are these patients responding well? Why are these patients not responding well? For cancers, that’s a molecular question often.”
Tempus is one of several ventures Lefkofsky has founded. These are 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. Each business model is similar in that it focuses on using scale and organization in addressing problems that have been traditionally solved on an ad hoc basis.
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. 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.
For more information on Eric Lefkofsky, connect on LinkedIn and follow him on Twitter (@lefkofsky) and on Facebook or visit lefkofsky.com. For more information on Tempus, visit tempus.com, “Tempus Labs” on Facebook and @TempusLabs on Twitter.