The 20th century saw tremendous and unprecedented leaps forward in the treatment of cancer. In the 1940s, chemotherapy and radiation came on the scene. These two treatments allowed patients with many types of cancer to beat the disease flat out. They also enabled many more patients to live for far longer than was ever previously possible. Prior to the advent of these new modes of treatment, cancer diagnoses were usually a death sentence. After they emerged as viable forms of treatment, cancer was often a mere inconvenience.
At the same time, many different surgical excision techniques were perfected, which allowed doctors to remove dangerous tumors and cancerous tissues. Taken together, this meant that by the 1970s, people who got cancer diagnoses often retained life expectancies not too far off from those of the general population.
Still, there were many forms of cancer that were still effective death sentences. While great strides were made in the treatment of diseases like breast and testicular cancer, reducing the danger of those diseases to the level of chronic illnesses, other forms of cancer remained deadly. Therefore, while the overall progress made with the revolutionary treatments of chemotherapy, radiation and excision truly constitute a miracle of modern medicine, cancer treatment as a discipline still left much to be desired.
Since the 1980s, a number of highly innovative treatments have come online. Many of these treatments are simply better versions of the three mainstays of cancer fighting that were invented in the 1940s. But some are completely new, such as antibody drug conjugates and gene therapy. Although these new forms of treatment have had huge success in very narrow areas, cancer remains one of the most serious diseases in the world.
Eric Lefkofsky is hoping to change that. Eric Lefkofsky made close to a billion dollars by the time he was in his 30s. The serial entrepreneur was responsible for founding some of the biggest names in modern tech, including Groupon. He has also long been a dedicated philanthropist, with a strong interest in donating to the medical sciences.
After a family member experienced a brief stint in the country’s cancer treatment regime, Eric Lefkofsky was disturbed enough by what he saw to jump into action. He saw that oncologists were often using woefully inadequate data management systems. At one point, Lefkofsky realized that the oncologists with whom he was dealing had less access to viable data than the typical American long-haul truck driver. This spurred him to found Tempus, a company dedicated to creating advanced data management and query systems for medical professionals.
Founded in 2015, Tempus has already created a system that takes unstructured data from medical records, including by the use of optical character recognition to collate data from hand-written notes, and it puts that data into structured formats that can be accessed by the company’s highly sophisticated artificial intelligence algorithms. This machine-learning based super-dataset allows physicians to ask questions with detail and accuracy that has never before been possible.
Lefkofsky has stated that the company’s systems are now able to answer many questions that previously would have required million-dollar longitudinal studies to even begin to understand. For instance, Lefkofsky points to the use of the drug Herceptin, which has demonstrated notoriously disparate clinical outcomes across patient cohorts. Because some patients respond stunningly well to the drug while others barely respond at all, oncologists have wanted to know what genetic, molecular or dietary differences are to blame for the high variance in the drug’s efficacy.
With Tempus, they are able to answer that question immediately and with a breadth and depth that has never before been possible.