Arm­ing on­col­o­gists and re­searchers with more ge­nomic data

Modern Healthcare - - INNOVATIONS - By Maria Castel­lucci

Eric Lefkofsky, the bil­lion­aire co­founder of Groupon, was as­ton­ished a few years ago when he re­al­ized first­hand the mar­ginal amount of ge­netic and molec­u­lar data avail­able to cancer pa­tients dur­ing treat­ment.

Lefkofsky’s wife, Liz, was di­ag­nosed with breast cancer, and it was dur­ing this ex­pe­ri­ence with the health­care sys­tem he be­came con­vinced “there was a struc­tural prob­lem un­der­ly­ing all of cancer treat­ment,” he said.

In­spired to make data more eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble, Lefkofsky launched Tem­pus in Septem­ber 2015, a tech startup based in Chicago that of­fers ge­nomic se­quenc­ing ser­vices and an­a­lyzes molec­u­lar and ther­a­peu­tic data for on­col­ogy spe­cial­ists and re­searchers.

Lefkofsky said only a small per­cent­age of pa­tients par­tic­i­pate in ge­nomic se­quenc­ing, but the pro­cess is more ac­ces­si­ble now than ever be­fore. Ad­vance­ments in tech­nol­ogy have made it much more af­ford­able to se­quence a hu­man genome, usu­ally cost­ing less than $1,000.

The in­for­ma­tion from the genome can be har­nessed by physi­cians to pro­vide pa­tients treat­ments unique to them and their par­tic­u­lar cancer.

Since its launch, Tem­pus has en­tered into sev­eral agree­ments with the na­tion’s lead­ing aca­demic med­i­cal cen­ters look­ing to cus­tom­ize treat­ment for its cancer pa­tients.

Tem­pus an­nounced a part­ner­ship in Septem­ber 2016 with North­west­ern Univer­sity’s Robert H. Lurie Com­pre­hen­sive Cancer Cen­ter. Tem­pus serves as the pre­ferred com­pany to con­duct ge­nomic se­quenc­ing for its On­coSet pro­gram, which launched in 2015 and uses pre­ci­sion medicine to treat pa­tients.

As part of the part­ner­ship, North­west­ern sends a sam­ple of the tu­mor to Tem­pus for se­quenc­ing. Equipped with a lab, Tem­pus se­quences and an­a­lyzes the genome within a mat­ter of weeks. The raw data and the an­a­lyzed data are then pre­sented to North­west­ern spe­cial­ists, who dis­cuss the re­sults to de­cide next treat­ment steps for pa­tients.

The agree­ment is still in the be­gin­ning stages, but the hope is that with a pa­tient’s ge­nomic in­for­ma­tion they can be re­ferred to clin­i­cal tri­als that will most ben­e­fit them, said Dr. Leonidas Pla­ta­nias, di­rec­tor of the Robert H. Lurie Com­pre­hen­sive Cancer Cen­ter.

“What we are try­ing to ac­com­plish is bring­ing ge­nomic in­for­ma­tion for each in­di­vid­ual tu­mor into play when we make de­ci­sions about how to treat a pa­tient,” he said.

A sim­i­lar col­lab­o­ra­tion was an­nounced ear­lier this month with Mayo Clinic’s Cen­ter for In­di­vid­u­al­ized Medicine to pro­vide molec­u­lar se­quenc­ing and anal­y­sis for 1,000 Mayo pa­tients par­tic­i­pat­ing in stud­ies re­lated to en­docrine ther­apy for ad­vanced breast cancer and im­munother­apy for lym­phoma, melanoma, lung, blad­der and breast can­cers.

The stud­ies are test­ing whether ex­per­i­men­tal drugs are ef­fec­tive for pa­tients.

Re­gard­less of whether the treat­ments work, the pa­tient’s ge­nomic in­for­ma­tion is added to their health record. This can help guide new treat­ment op­tions fur­ther down the road in the pa­tient’s care, said Keith Ste­wart, di­rec­tor of Mayo’s Cen­ter for In­di­vid­u­al­ized Medicine.

Most cancer pa­tients re­ceive a gene panel, which ex­am­ines about 400 genes to look for mu­ta­tions. Ste­wart said Tem­pus was ap­peal­ing be­cause it pro­vides a more de­tailed look at the pa­tient’s whole ex­ome, in­clud­ing their DNA and RNA.

“Tem­pus is of­fer­ing what we need, which is a deep dive into the genome at a rea­son­able price,” he said.

Agree­ments with health­care sys­tems like Mayo and North­west­ern drive rev­enue, which Lefkofsky de­clined to dis­close.

Lefkofsky and Brad Key­well, co-founder of Tem­pus and Groupon, have self-funded the vast ma­jor­ity of cap­i­tal for Tem­pus. The com­pany em­ploys about 100 peo­ple, but Lefkofsky said that num­ber is grow­ing ev­ery week.

In ad­di­tion to its col­lab­o­ra­tions, Tem­pus is as­sem­bling a large li­brary of molec­u­lar and clin­i­cal data that can be an­a­lyzed by its hospi­tal part­ners. Lefkofsky said “tens of thou­sands” of peo­ple are part of this li­brary.

“Long be­fore we start think­ing about how to find a cure for cancer, we have to start think­ing about how to as­sem­ble the nec­es­sary data to put to­gether a plan of at­tack,” Lefkofsky said.

“There was a struc­tural prob­lem un­der­ly­ing all of cancer treat­ment,” ERIC LEFKOFSKY

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