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Kapos: What set Eric Lefkofsky on a new course in big data

Eric Lefkofsky, CEO of Tempus

There was a time when Eric Lefkofsky‘s legacy might have been Groupon, the $2.2 billion e-commerce company that connects customers with merchants.

That changed a few years ago when his wife, Liz, a prominent Chicago arts patron and collector, was diagnosed with breast cancer. The experience sent the couple into a tailspin, and Lefkofsky on a new course.

Like so many families confronted with a cancer diagnosis, the Lefkofskys scrambled for information.

“It’s terrifying,” Lefkofsky said during an interview in his office. “Unfortunately doctors can’t say ‘You’re going to be OK,’ which is frustrating.”

It was the perfect storm for the entrepreneur driven by building businesses using data. “You start a company when you believe you’ve identified a big problem — a problem painful enough that you want to spend time fixing it.”

Tempus was born.

The company has developed an operating system for cancer — a technology platform that connects anatomic and molecular data with clinical data from medical systems all over the country, explains Lefkofsky, the company’s CEO. All that information compiled in one place allows doctors to come up with better-informed — and more personalized — treatments.

For example, maybe a combination of chemo and radiation would be adjusted for a patient based on historic results from patients with similar medical backgrounds across the country, all based upon both their genetic makeup and the various drugs they took.

Lefkofsky, who’s been included on the Forbes billionaire list and could have spent the rest of his life coasting on the success of Groupon, instead immersed himself in understanding health care. He read a lot and talked to doctors to get up to speed.

Kevin White, president of Tempus and founding director of the Institute for Genomics and Systems Biology at the University of Chicago, calls Lefkofsky a quick study.

A geneticist by training, White says he and Lefkofsky come from different backgrounds but are on the same page in wanting “to take cancer treatment to the next level using modern technology.”

Tempus allows partnering doctors to use its analytics system to learn more about their patients.

University of Pennsylvania’s Abramson Cancer Center is the latest health center to collaborate with the Chicago company. Local hospitals teaming with Tempus: Northwestern University’s Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center, Rush University Medical Center and a clinical trial group at University of Chicago.

Lefkofsky doesn’t expect quick results. “This will be a long journey,” he says. “It’s an exciting journey, trying to bring technology to cancer and ultimately bring technology to health care.”

Tempus is privately held, which means Lefkofsky isn’t tethered to the “day-to-day and quarter-to-quarter” pressures that come with answering to shareholders of a public company.

The business is personal, aligning every part of his life: family, business and philanthropy. Where once all those interests were disconnected, now there’s “perfect symmetry,” Lefkofsky says.

Nearly 600,000 people die a year from cancer, “and it hasn’t changed much in 25 years,” Lefkofsky says, imagining that additional information could have changed treatment decisions and kept thousands more cancer patients alive. “That’s real motivation.”

And, surely, a legacy.

Kennedy cousins cross paths in Chicago

Former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy
Former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy

Former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy is in Chicago to lead conversations about the future of mental health. It’s part of the Kennedy Forum‘s annual meeting.

U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy and Grammy Award-winner Michelle Williams are speaking. Patrick Kennedy is a son of the late Ted Kennedy.

Missing from the event is cousin Chris Kennedy, the Chicago businessman leading development of the Kennedy family’s Wolf Point real estate holdings.

Chris Kennedy is headed to the Ripple of Hope awards dinner in New York, put on by the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights nonprofit (named after his late father). Chris Kennedy’s mom, Ethel, and sister Kerry will be at the event. Vice President Joe Biden is the among the honorees and Alec Baldwin — who does a spot-on impersonation of Donald Trump on Saturday Night Live — is a featured guest.

Chris Kennedy says he enjoys connecting with cousins when they come to Chicago, but when his sister says “be there” — he is.

Primo Center on the fast track

The Primo Center logo was displayed on a limited-edition Ferrari 458 driven by Lake Forest Sportscars owner Rick Mancuso. | Provided photo
The Primo Center logo was displayed on a limited-edition Ferrari 458 driven by Lake Forest Sportscars owner Rick Mancuso. | Provided photo

Chicago businessman Quintin Primo III was at Daytona International Speedway a few days ago for the Finali Mondiali (Ferrari World Finals).

He’s a car lover and went to see the limited-edition Ferrari 458 driven by Lake Forest Sportscars owner Rick Mancuso. It was a special car because it was also branded with the Primo Center logo.

The Primo Center for Women and Children is a West Side shelter for families facing homelessness and founded by Primo’s father.

News that the car would be “Primo-wrapped” came at the October Primo Classico fundraiser. “He was surprised,” said Margaret O’Connor, who oversees the event that supports the center. “It’s not often you see a nonprofit’s name emblazoned on a Daytona car.”

Pagliuco Design’s Michael Pagliuco created and donated the wrapping. And Dave Musial, owner of Four Seasons Heating, Air Conditioning and Plumbing, underwrote it. That’s a $60,000 value — no small price but for a good cause that they all support.

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