The field of data-driven cancer innovation is heating up. Just recently, Eric Lefkofsky of medical analytics firm Tempus announced that his firm will be entering into a partnership with CancerLinQ, the data collection arm of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, the largest professional organization of oncologists in the world.
Lefkofsky stated that the deal between the two firms was struck as a means to compliment each other’s skill sets. With Tempus’ ability to provide some of the most advanced analytics capabilities currently available in the medical field, the vast trove of data provided by CancerLinQ may prove to be the magic bullet in the fight to understand cancer treatments and how patients interact with them.
One of the most pressing issues in cancer treatment over the last few decades has been the stagnation that has occurred in the means by which many diseases are treated. While there are new targeted therapy drugs that have recently been approved for general use, these drugs tend to be confined to very narrow uses, such as people with a specific pancreatic tumor that tests positive for a certain number of genetic characteristics. While these developments have been extremely promising for the very specific disease entities that they are approved to treat, the broader field of oncology has not greatly benefited from their introduction. Although that may very well change in the years ahead, the cancer treatment industry needs something that can provide real advances in the here and now.
This is where Tempus comes in. Rather than focusing on creating high-tech drugs and other treatments that directly fight cancer cells through genomic targeting or bioengineering enzymes to destroy tumor tissue, Tempus is taking a much more general and practical approach. The company has undertaken to create the most advance analytics suite ever seen in the field of medicine. The company says that its platform will eventually be able to answer questions of a level of complexity that were previously only able to be addressed through double-blind clinical studies. Instead of taking $5 million, five years and thousands of man hours to answer a question about why one patient cohort responds well to a given chemotherapy regime while another doesn’t respond at all, the Tempus system may be able to answer that same question in a matter of nanoseconds at no additional cost.
Lefkofsky does not anticipate that this will represent an Earth-shattering breakthrough. Instead, he says that the process of garnering ever sharper insights into the nuanced ways that treatments interact with patient groups will lead to slow but steady improvement in patient outcomes. While this is not a romantic way of fighting cancer, Lefkofsky sees it as being similar to compounding interest, with all the little incremental improvements eventually adding up to incredible leaps forward.
But he says that the process will take time to unfold. Some people may not like the idea of attempting to fight cancer by means that the people who most advocate the strategy in question admit will never actually lead to a cure. However, what Lefkofsky is suggesting is that, when the process is repeated and improved upon over a large time frame, eventually, cancer will likely become little more than a bothersome chronic illness. Just as diseases like HIV, hepatitis C and tuberculosis were once nearly always fatal but are now considered mostly non-life-threatening, Lefkofsky envisions a time in the not-to-distant future when increased understanding of cancer treatments will lead to that disease also becoming little more than a chronic illness.
The partnership between Tempus and CancerLinQ marks a big step in that direction.