Eric Lefkofsky is not known to everyone. But the serial entrepreneur is a legend within the tech community. Having played integral roles in founding a number of big-name tech startups, including Groupon, Lefkofsky, who is originally from the Chicago area, has become one of the biggest names in Illinois philanthropy and charities throughout the country.
But it is in the area of cancer technology that Lefkofsky may leave his most prominent and lasting mark. As the co-founder of Tempus, a company dedicated to applying data science to fighting cancer and other diseases, Lefkofsky is bringing to the world technologies that have never before been conceived. Some of these platforms have the promise of completely upending the way that disease is fought, giving doctors the power of not just existing medical knowledge at their fingertips but also the ability to answer, in real time, the most complex questions regarding optimal treatment and medication.
Lefkofsky has explained that, currently, cancer treatment in the United States is frequently a crude tool. He says that many cancer-treatment regimens are little different from a mechanic who is forced to work on a car with just four or five basic tools. Too often, says Lefkofsky, there is a one-size-fits-all mindset that is adopted when treating cancer. This is never optimal and, in many cases, can be highly inappropriate and counterproductive.
As an example, Lefkofsky points to the drug Herceptin, a high-tech drug used to treat refractory breast cancer. Lefkofsky states that Herceptin, in many cases, turns out to be a literal miracle drug, completely curing some patients of their cancer. However, in other cases, the drug does nothing. This gives rise to the question as to why there is one group of patients who respond spectacularly well to the drug while another group barely responds at all. It turns out that questions of this nature, to one degree or another, occur with nearly every drug used to treat cancer. Questions regarding the nuances of everything from the outcomes of surgeries to the patient’s perception of the efficacy of their treatments often yield a range of answers that lie on a wide spectrum. It is understanding why these answers diverge so wildly from one patient to another that lies at the heart of what Tempus is doing.
Through taking advantage of the now ubiquitous sources of good data on medical phenomena, the company is creating platforms that will allow doctors to get the same quality of answers that would have in the past required million-dollar studies and years to complete. In particular, the rapidly declining cost of gene sequencing will provide more and better data than has ever been available previously. This will allow the Tempus platform to use its highly sophisticated artificial intelligence to tease out the causal relationships in the data, helping physicians to maximize the effectiveness of treatments and minimize the chance of adverse effects.
It will also help to eliminate trial and error, a huge source of pain, suffering and precious lost time in the treatment of diseases. Currently, treatment for many different types of cancer involves doctors doing a lot of guessing as to which treatment regimens will be most likely to succeed with a given patient. With Eric Lefkofsky’s platform, those doctors may soon be able to predict, with a high degree of certainty, which treatments are most likely to produce the best results within a given patient cohort.
The elimination of guesswork could be crucial, especially in the treatment of cancer where lost time often equates to disease progression and worse prognoses. Ultimately, the technologies being developed by Eric Lefkofsky may turn cancer into just another chronic disease.