Eric Lefkofsky and Tempus: Using Data, Genetics and Precision Medicine Against Cancer


One of Chicago’s most influential tech figures, Eric Lefkofsky is the founder of Groupon and has most recently co-launched Tempus, a start-up that focuses on taking a unique approach in the battle against cancer.


Cancer begins when cells grow uncontrollably and do not die, forming masses of abnormal cells that grow out of control. Depending on the location as well as the speed of the abnormal cell growth, or tumor, cancer can either be severely debilitating or deadly. The prevalence of cancer is so widespread that almost everyone knows someone who has suffered from the disease. With cancer being such a difficult disease to treat and cure, any progress in that direction is of high importance. With aims to ameliorate cancer’s burden, Eric Lefkofsky co-founded Tempus, a technology startup whose aim is to establish an infrastructure to advance cancer treatment.


Much progress has been made in the health industry due to the advancement of electronic health records. However, the system is not optimized, and a gap persists between collected data and its implementation in developing effective customized treatment paradigms. By launching Tempus, Lefkofsky hoped to address this discrepancy and enhance the delivery of cancer care via a platform for clinical and molecular patient data analysis. However, despite having all the resources for analytical software development, one Tempus’ biggest challenges were issues with access and reliability of medical and clinical data.


Lefkofsky’s challenges were twofold. Clinical and medical data access were one problem. Another hindrance was the way in which patient data was collected and stored, namely in the form of physician or progress notes, which were difficult to standardize, let alone access. However, having developed software equipped with optical character recognition and natural language processing that would transform collected patient information into structured data, Tempus effectively overcame the difficulties it initially faced. Finally, the most pertinent patient information was converted into organized data so that cancer treatment and care would make significant headway.


So what is patient molecular data, and how can it contribute to the advancement of how cancer patients are treated and cared for? Molecular data encompasses genomic information, or the sequence of nucleotide base pairs that make up the human DNA, that is obtained via human genome sequencing and analysis methods. As cancer research efforts have increasingly focused on combatting the disease on molecular and cellular levels, human genes have become obvious targets as they possibly contain information or clues that could make it easier or more effective to design treatments against diseases like cancer.


Tempus focuses on the collection and analysis of large amounts of genomic data that, when paired with the clinical patient information, enables doctors and healthcare professionals to better understand a patient’s cancer, which in turn helps them make effective data-driven treatment decisions. Ultimately, these data are used for the purpose of providing more precise and personalized medicine as it enables doctors to develop a better care plan and treatment for their patients.


Lefkofsky, along with others who are at the forefront of data-enabled precision medicine, speculate that methods such as the Tempus paradigm would enable physicians and other health care workers to choose more effective cancer treatments as they would help doctors to be better informed about which medicines work for a particular patient and which do not. Furthermore, this would enable treatment decisions not only for cancer but many other diseases.


Lefkofsky was born in Southfield, Michigan, in September of 1969. In 1991 he graduated from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor with high honors. Even though he earned his Juris Doctor degree from the University of Michigan Law School in 1993, he never pursued law.


Lefkofsky’s path to becoming Tempus’ co-founder is marked with several other accomplishments and entrepreneurial ventures. He is the founding partner of Lightbank, a venture fund that focuses its investments on disruptive technologies. He was also co-founder and Chairman of the global e-commerce marketplace Groupon. Furthermore, he is co-founder of Uptake Technologies, an analytics platform for the world’s largest industries, Mediaocean, which provides integrated media procurement technologies, Echo Global Logistics, a technology-enabled transportation and logistics outsourcing firm and InnerWorkings, whose focus is on providing managed print and promotional solutions globally.


Lefkofsky is an avid philanthropist, having established the Lefkofsky Family Foundation together with his wife in 2006. The Foundation’s primary aim is to advance high-impact initiatives in education, fundamental human rights, medicine, art and culture that enhance lives in the communities that are served. As of 2013, both are also members of The Giving Pledge, where 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 also serves as the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Steppenwolf Theatre Company that is based in Chicago.

Further reading:

How Eric Lefkofsky is Helping Cancer Patients through Technological Advancements


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