Eric Lefkofsky Takes Decisive Step Towards Mainstreaming Molecular Therapy

Eric Lefkofsky is currently one of the most prominent philanthropists in the medical field. He has donated hundreds of millions of dollars of his personal fortune to medical causes over the years, helping push the state of science into the future.

But after Lefkofsky had a personal experience with the cancer-fighting apparatus of the United States, he began to become very concerned that the nation’s medical professionals were not being adequately served by the data and analysis systems that they used. Eric Lefkofsky realized that many oncologists had poorer data and analytics than many over-the-road truck drivers. He decided that he would use his considerable expertise in the creation of high-tech data systems and his prodigious entrepreneurial talents to create a new way for medical professionals to handle and interpret the vast amounts of data currently produced by the U.S. medical system.

In 2015, this led Eric Lefkofsky to found Tempus, a company dedicated to the creation of sophisticated data and analytics platforms for doctors. In its brief existence, Tempus has already developed a system that helps take unstructured data from such divergent sources as doctor’s notes and patient phone calls to convert that data into a structured format that can be easily indexed and queried. While this system is a big step forward, there is nothing really revolutionary about it. It is simply a novel and skillful implementation of existing technologies.

Where Lefkofsky is looking to really shake things up through transformative technology is in the area of molecular medicine. A part of what can broadly be termed precision medicine, molecular medicine is still very much in its infancy. However, as Lefkofsky himself says, all of the fundamental pieces to bring molecular medicine into a viable implementation already exist. It is just a matter of working out the numerous and considerable kinks.

The two revolutionary components of precision medicine have already arrived. The first is cheap genomic sequencing. This will allow future medical systems to analyze the complete genetic makeup of patients at a level that could never have been dreamed of before. In this way, it will be possible to accurately break up patients into orders of magnitude more cohorts than before. As it stands now, a drug will be FDA approved for a group of patients with a defined illness and a given set of characteristics. A typical FDA approval may include hundreds of thousands or millions of patients in a given year. A drug like Tylenol may be indicated for hundreds of millions of patients within the U.S. alone.

Precision medicine will be similar, except the cohort size may only be two or three people. But why would any pharmaceutical company produce a drug with a total available market of only three people per year? The answer is the second revolutionary mechanism behind molecular medicine: gene editing and highly sophisticated organic chemistry processes. Rather than a drug being synthesized and taking years or decades to be approved, it will be synthesized on the spot, using a combination of automated chemical process and, in some cases, CRISPR-like gene-editing technology.

Tempus fits into all of this by providing the deep analytics, trawling through the entire human gene pool to tease out every relationship and every drug reaction and interaction, defining patient profiles down to the genetic level with detail that has never before even been approached.

Using data drawn from such systems and the advanced query capabilities within them, oncologists will be able to formulate patient-specific drugs that are tailored to optimize effectiveness while minimizing side effects. Lefkofsky says that this technology could eventually reduce cancer to little more than a chronic disease.

Melissa Thompson writes about a wide range of topics, revealing interesting things we didn’t know before. She is a freelance USA Today producer, and a Technorati contributor.