Tempus, Eric Lefkofsky and the Last Mile

Tempus recently announced its collaboration with The Knight Cancer Institute, which is on the campus of Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU). Knight is one of 69 Cancer Centers designated by the National Cancer Institute. OHSU is known as both an academic health center and a research university. Tempus and Knight are the latest links in the cancer information network Tempus is building. This year, Tempus announced collaborations with the University of Virginia, U. C. Davis, the Cleveland Clinic, the University of Chicago, the University of Michigan, and Northwestern University. Hospitals, clinics and cancer research centers are contributing to what Tempus intends to be the largest medical library of molecular and clinical data.


Tempus provides genome sequencing for its network partners and receives clinical data from doctors and researchers. Tempus further facilitates provider uploads of patients’ clinical data and medical histories. Tempus is creating a network of clinics, hospitals and research facilities from which they receive electronic medical records, and to which Tempus provides patient genome sequences. Together, Tempus and its clients are building a data library to aid in matching the most effective treatments to individual cancer cases.


For Eric Lefkofsky, Tempus is the dream that “is so intoxicating that I’m compelled to do everything in my power to make the dream a reality.” Mr. Lefkofsky has brought some of his previous dreams to market via initial public stock offerings. Innerworkings (INWK), which began trading in 2006, connects companies with customers through marketing campaigns. Echo Global Logistics (ECHO), offered publicly in 2009, connects companies with efficient transport of their products. Groupon (GRPN) started trading in 2011 and connects consumers with discounted goods and services. With Tempus, Mr. Lefkofsky believes he can connect oncologists with the most up-to-date treatments for their patients’ specific cancer diagnoses.


Tempus is aptly named because, for Eric Lefkofsky, the battle for patients is with time. According to “An Operating System for Cancer,” co-authored by Mr. Lefkofsky, “If a typical stage 4 metastatic patient has two years to live, we cannot take 10 years to test a small handful of therapeutic options; it is just too slow.” He believes that the development and approval of designer drugs to treat the more than one hundred recognized cancers can and must be accelerated. Like early astronomers, cancer researchers charted the stars, but did not have a way to communicate their practical findings to mariners at sea. Mariners were in need of direction, but for guidance referred only to ancient maps with monsters at the edges. Mr. Lefkofsky wishes to provide compass and sextant.


Once upon a time, in the dark before the dawn of the Internet, someone connected one computer to another with a flat, wide cable and created a “network”. Later, multiple computers were connected to a “server” to create an “intranet.” When those servers were connected worldwide, the Internet came to be. A computer’s operating system connected the keyboard to the screen, the operator’s fingers to his eyes, so that instructions entered could be tracked. Before any connections were made, each computer needed to be operated on the same system so that communication between computers was possible.


The Human Genome Project—the world’s largest collaborative project--discovered a new language with a new set of characters. That new language, declared complete in 2003, has about 22,300 distinct characters (protein-coding genes) and no Rosetta Stone to offer translation clues. Cancer researchers look for patterns repeated by those genomic characters in order to determine the importance and relevance of each recurrence. Without patient experience for comparison, those discoveries are as useless as are charts on an astronomer’s desk to a mariner lost at sea.


Tempus believes it has a solution, but it will take cooperation, collaboration and mountains of data. Oncologists and researchers are presented with a source of information and potential for discovery as vast and unfathomable as the heavens to Copernicus or the Atlantic Ocean to Prince Henry the Navigator. Those ancient scientists and explorers believed precious answers and untold riches lay just beyond their reach, but had none but their own experiences to evaluate. Only after centuries of recording and comparing observations were they able provide a valuable map of the planet.


The earliest users of interconnected computers had the most influence in building what we now know as the Internet. At first, network access was the problem. Equipment was expensive and unreliable. Computers connected via telephone lines with dial-up modems as rotary dials were being replaced with keypads. Speeds were measured in hundreds of bits per second, not millions or billions. Early computer operation required uncommon skill, computation time and patience, but for their persistent use and preference input, initial Internet users were rewarded with the opportunity to weave the World Wide Web. Hospitals filled with the pulses and squeals of computers dialing each other, transferring medical records and doctors’ notes electronically. Telephone and cable television companies invested to expand their networks, laying miles of cable for faster broadband speeds and future demand for bandwidth.


In telecommunications, the “last mile” refers to the bottleneck telecommunications networks experienced when linking individual subscribers. Providers had to adapt to each customer’s distance from the network, topography and adequacy of equipment. With the announcement of collaboration with Knight Cancer Institute, Tempus has signaled their intention to walk that last mile. Tempus will continue to build their comprehensive library of human genome sequence data and electronic medical records by expanding their cancer information network. Which therapy, for which patient, with which type of cancer? Each new clinic, hospital and research facility is both a user and a provider, a client and a vendor, of the data that will be needed to solve those questions.

Further reading: http://norcal.news/news/23733-eric-lefkofsky-searches-coast-coast-cure





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