The founder and Chief Executive Officer of Tempus, Eric Lefkofsky attended Bloomberg’s The Year Ahead summit which took place in late November in New York, and talked to Bloomberg Businessweek’s Max Chafkin about his transition to the healthcare sector and certain aspects of his business.
Tempus is not Lefkofsky’s first successful business venture. He has been part of starting 6 companies, 2 of which are operating today, 1 of which was sold, and the other 3 went public. During the interview he stated that he took something away from each of those experiences and built on them. His approach is simply trying to avoid the things that did not work well and repeat the things that did. One of his most successful ventures was Groupon, which grew from $30 million in sales during its first year to $4 billion in the 3rd year.
Lefkofsky pointed out that the spent his career structuring unstructured data, and that is a common theme with the companies that he helped establish in the past. While he didn’t think he would do business in the healthcare industry, 4 years ago he dealt with someone who was fighting cancer and notes that he was perplexed about how little data had permeated that process, thus he became convinced that he had to bring the same technology to the healthcare industry that he was bringing in the past to other sectors of activities. 3 years ago he launched Tempus in order to figure out how to fix the underlying data infrastructure in cancer care as well as in other aspects of healthcare.
What sets Tempus apart from other companies that focus on data is the fact that from the beginning the company had a holistic approach to the problem. Lefkofsky considers that every approach is good when it comes to solving part of the problem, but despite the fact that companies are doing good work they often miss the context of what happened to the patients. Tempus combines 3 types of data: phenotypic, morphologic, and molecular data, which means combining text, image, and molecules. He believes that only by combining all 3 types of data and having everything under one roof you can get a picture of what is happening to the patient and see patterns that are describing why certain things occur. The challenge, according to Eric Lefkofsky, is getting the kind of data that is needed, meaning clean-structured, clinical data connected to molecular data in one place. Simply put, information is needed about who the patient is, what drugs they are taking, how they are responding to those drugs, and by sequencing the patients you can begin to understand why they’re having certain responses.
Lefkofsky noted that 1.7 million people in the United States get diagnosed with cancer every year, and that only 25% get sequenced. He ventured a guess and stated that in 5 to 10 years, 100% of the patients will get sequenced, and also stated that anybody who has late stage, metastatic, or high risk diseases will get sequenced many times. He believes this is a pattern that will start to emerge in other aspects of healthcare as well, such as neurological, immunology, infectious, and cardiovascular side, due to the fact that they are seeing patterns where sequencing patients can produce interesting data to tell doctors.
In addition, he considers that there exist underlying technologies which would allow a company like Tempus to gain scale, the evidence being that there are currently 250 hospital systems working with the company, including the fact that 25% of cancer patients in the United States come through Tempus.