Eric Lefkofsky, Founder and CEO of Tempus: Winning the Battle of Medical Discoveries

October 19, 2017 - By 
Eric Lefkofsky

Eric Lefkofsky is the founder and CEO of Tempus, one of Chicago’s top ten tech startups.  Tempus is focused on building the world’s largest library of molecular and clinical data along with an operating system that it hopes will bridge the disconnect between collected data and cancer patient treatment and make that information accessible and useful to physicians and other healthcare workers. Ultimately, he hopes this would lead to more personalized cancer care and improved patient outcomes. Started in 2015 by Lefkofsky and his longtime business partner, Tempus has since grown to a 200-person company that has recently raised $70 million in venture capital, the largest amount of funding in the third quarter of 2017.


Lefkofsky’s repertoire spans beyond entrepreneurship. He is heavily involved in philanthropic causes. Over a decade ago, he and his wife Liz founded the Lefkofsky Family Foundation, whose primary aims are the advancement education, fundamental human rights, civic causes and medical discoveries. Yet while the aim of the foundation is to advance all of the aforementioned, Lefkofsky states in his blog that “These days, I have become 100% focused on the last and I can’t seem to think about anything else.”


Lefkofsky believes that we could be spending our nation’s money better. In his blog, he writes that “We spend ~$3 trillion a year on health care in this country, and by almost all accounts (independent government studies, large Payor analyses, etc.) roughly one-third is wasted. That means we are spending roughly a trillion dollars a year that we don’t need to be spending.” He believes that one way to better spending is technology, as he continues with the statement that we “are standing at the gateway of a new era of technology and medicine, one that is going to completely upend how we treat patients and manage disease.” But more than that, he believes that “by bringing big data (along with machine learning and artificial intelligence) to healthcare, we can reduce mortalities by well over 50% in the next 25 years and remove a significant portion of that trillion-dollar waste.”


That begs the question of what to do with all the saved money? Lefkofsky believes that a great portion of it could be geared toward increasing the education budget that would improve our schools, and we would still be left with enough money to significantly impact crime, work “with individuals from disadvantaged communities, as well as providing job training and other opportunities to individuals who are already in the prison system.” According to him, we would still be left “with $790 billion to go.” That, he believes could be spent toward tackling poverty, as “For ~$150 billion or so we can bring everyone in this country above the poverty line.” In terms of the billions of dollars that are left, he comments that “Maybe we want to retire our national debt or reserve for the interest we pay.  If we chose the latter, that’s $240 billion annually.  So even after setting aside enough money to cover our national debt without using a penny of tax payer money, we still have $400 billion left.”


Lefkofsky states that “The elephant in the room is cancer (and other diseases) that endlessly consume our resources, impoverish our healthcare system, and deflate the spirit of every patient and family member battling disease.” He finds one of the biggest issues to be the subpar collection and use of patient treatment results, as this information is typically only accessible to the patient’s health care provider. In order to bridge the gap between patient data and personalized cancer care, Tempus’ approach includes sequencing, analytics, reporting and validation. In his blog, Lefkofsky states that “while up until now we were powerless to combat illnesses such as cancer, overwhelmed by its complexity, we now have for the first time, the tools we need to peer inside the body and understand what makes us healthy and what makes us sick.” He continues with “Advances in molecular sequencing, machine learning, and artificial intelligence have armed us in ways that were truly unimaginable by those fighting on the front line.”


Tempus defines sequencing as the use of genomic and transcriptomic sequencing of cancer patients combined with deep machine learning, while analytics refers to the combined analysis of both molecular and clinical data in order better understand patients’ tumors and subsequently find more personalized treatment options. Tempus’ reporting involves providing physicians with detailed patient information that highlights actionable insights and their implications for a patient’s treatment.


In his blog, he connects budgeting optimization and the control of diseases such as cancer. “But wait, we forgot to accrue for the positive benefit of (1) an extra one million productive Americans who are still alive because they didn’t die of cancer, or a heart attack, or a stroke and (2) a more educated society and (3) less people in jail and (4) no more poverty to contend with.  Even if we assume conservative GDP lifts for the above, you probably pick up $500-600 billion annually, which means we’re left trying to spend the extra trillion dollars we saved by improving our healthcare system and controlling diseases such as cancer.”


Lefkofsky concludes with “In other words, remove the trillion dollars of waste and save lives with more effective prevention and treatment, and you have enough money to attack national problems with plenty to spare.” He closes with “It’s time to double down. It’s time to focus. Because as you can see, if we win this battle, we win the entire war.”

According to, Lefkofsky’s other philanthropic involvements include The Giving Pledge, Lurie’s Children’s Hospital, The Art Institute of Chicago, The Museum of Science and Industry and World Business Chicago as well as the Steppenwolf Theatre Company. In addition to Tempus, his other entrepreneurial ventures include Lightbank, Groupon, Uptake Technologies, Mediaocean, Echo Global Logistics, and InnerWorkings.


He is also author of Accelerated Disruption: Understanding the True Speed of Innovation.

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