Eric Lefkofsky, the billionaire co-founder of Groupon, was astonished a few years ago when he realized firsthand the marginal amount of genetic and molecular data available to cancer patients during treatment.
Arming oncologists and researchers with more genomic data
Lefkofsky's wife, Liz, was diagnosed with breast cancer, and it was during this experience with the healthcare system he became convinced “there was a structural problem underlying all of cancer treatment,” he said.
Inspired to make data more easily accessible, Lefkofsky launched Tempus in September 2015, a tech startup based in Chicago that offers genomic sequencing services and analyzes molecular and therapeutic data for oncology specialists and researchers.
Lefkofsky said only a small percentage of patients participate in genomic sequencing, but the process is more accessible now than ever before. Advancements in technology have made it much more affordable to sequence a human genome, usually costing less than $1,000.
The information from the genome can be harnessed by physicians to provide patients treatments unique to them and their particular cancer.
Since its launch, Tempus has entered into several agreements with the nation's leading academic medical centers looking to customize treatment for its cancer patients.
Tempus announced a partnership in September 2016 with Northwestern University's Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center. Tempus serves as the preferred company to conduct genomic sequencing
for its OncoSet program, which launched in 2015 and uses precision medicine to treat patients.
Co-Founder and CEO
Genomic sequencing services and analysis of molecular and therapeutic data for oncology specialists and researchers
The company, which has financial backing from its billionaire co-founders, has hired more than 100 employees and secured contracts with major institutions such as the Mayo Clinic.
As part of the partnership, Northwestern sends a sample of the tumor to Tempus for sequencing. Equipped with a lab, Tempus sequences and analyzes the genome within a matter of weeks. The raw data and the analyzed data are then presented to Northwestern specialists, who discuss the results to decide next treatment steps for patients.
The agreement is still in the beginning stages, but the hope is that with a patient's genomic information they can be referred to clinical trials that will most benefit them, said Dr. Leonidas Platanias, director of the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center.
“What we are trying to accomplish is bringing genomic information for each individual tumor into play when we make decisions about how to treat a patient,” he said.
A similar collaboration was announced earlier this month with Mayo Clinic's Center for Individualized Medicine to provide molecular sequencing and analysis for 1,000 Mayo patients participating in studies related to endocrine therapy for advanced breast cancer and immunotherapy for lymphoma, melanoma, lung, bladder and breast cancers.
The studies are testing whether experimental drugs are effective for patients.
Regardless of whether the treatments work, the patient's genomic information is added to their health record. This can help guide new treatment options further down the road in the patient's care, said Keith Stewart, director of Mayo's Center for Individualized Medicine.
Most cancer patients receive a gene panel, which examines about 400 genes to look for mutations. Stewart said Tempus was appealing because it provides a more detailed look at the patient's whole exome, including their DNA and RNA.
“Tempus is offering what we need, which is a deep dive into the genome at a reasonable price,” he said.
Agreements with healthcare systems like Mayo and Northwestern drive revenue, which Lefkofsky declined to disclose.
Lefkofsky and Brad Keywell, co-founder of Tempus and Groupon, have self-funded the vast majority of capital for Tempus. The company employs about 100 people, but Lefkofsky said that number is growing every week.
In addition to its collaborations, Tempus is assembling a large library of molecular and clinical data that can be analyzed by its hospital partners. Lefkofsky said “tens of thousands” of people are part of this library.
“Long before we start thinking about how to find a cure for cancer, we have to start thinking about how to assemble the necessary data to put together a plan of attack,” Lefkofsky said.
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