Groupon founder Eric Lefkofsky sees opportunity in oncology’s disarray

When Eric Lefkofsky, co-founder of volume discount giant Groupon, got the news that his wife was suffering from advanced breast cancer, he was understandably distraught. But over the next few months of going in and out of oncology offices around Chicago, he became even more worried, not by the state of his wife’s disease, which her oncology team was, by that time, highly confident would beat, but by the state of oncology itself.

Specifically, Lefkofsky was aghast to realize that oncology experts, at some of Chicago’s most prestigious medical institutions, had less real-time access to data and analytics than many truck drivers. This led Lefkofsky to begin studying the problem on his own. Eventually, he came to the conclusion that there was massive room for improvement in the way that oncologists are fed data. And the analytic tools that were available to them were both crude and weak.

Lefkofsky eventually founded Tempus, an oncological analytics company dedicated to teasing out the crucial patterns in the vast reams of data that are potentially available to oncologists and other medical professionals. Once of the largest sources of untapped and unparsed data is the human genome itself. The use of genomic sequencing has exploded over the last 15 years, with the price of sequencing an average human genome dropping by a factor of more than 20,000 times. In 2003, the first human genome was sequenced at a cost of over $100,000,000. Today, a person’s genome can be totally sequenced for just $5,000. Lefkofsky predicts that figure will drop to just a few hundred dollars in the coming decades, as computer capacity advances and new techniques become known.

Lefkofsky is working at Tempus to create a system that can act as a sort of on-demand meta-study platform, conducting real-time, sophisticated cancer analysis that will put into the hands of oncologists the necessary relationships between patient characteristics and treatment options to enable them to create a totally customized treatment regimen.

Rather than all patients suffering from a form of cancer receiving a one-size-fits-all treatment, a highly granular approach will be taken, with no two patients getting exactly the same combination of drugs, course and duration.

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