Death to Cancer, Byte by Byte
There has never been a more urgent time to harness and apply data science to help eradicate cancer. Why? For the first time, it is possible. We stand at the crossroads of two transformative advances in science. The first of these is our ability to sequence the entire genome of a cancer patient. The cost of genetic sequencing has fallen over one million-fold since 2000, making the technology finally accessible at scale. The second critical advancement is our growing appreciation and understanding of how to leverage the human immune system to fight cancer. One of the great challenges for our generation will be to invent a data-driven approach that can match a patient’s genetic makeup to their optimal cancer therapy.
Recently, the FDA announced approval of an immunotherapy to treat cancers with a specific genomic profile. This marks the first time the agency has used a genomic profile rather than an anatomical tumor type (i.e. breast or pancreatic cancer) as a criterion in the drug approval process. However, it remains unclear why some patients respond well to immunotherapy, and others not well at all. At Tempus, we have assembled a team of roughly one hundred and fifty computational biologists, geneticists, and immunologists who, together with our data scientists and engineers, are pursuing an answer to this question: Why do some patients respond well to a cancer therapy while others do not?
We believe that combining the patient’s genomic and clinical data is key to determining which cancer therapy should be implemented in a specific clinical context. We believe this represents the future of cancer care. To get there, however, we must apply many of the substantial advances made in computing over the past twenty years, from computer vision for analyzing tumor biopsy images, to natural language processing for parsing clinical records, to machine learning for integrating DNA and RNA information.
In the last century, every generation, emboldened by a disrupting technology, can lay claim to a monumental achievement that changed the way we live — from curing polio to landing a man on the moon. The challenge of our time is to end cancer as we know it. We finally have the tools.