CHICAGO – As Wall Street reels from the COVID-19 pandemic, privately held Tempus last week raised its valuation to $5 billion by closing a $100 million Series G round of financing. With the new infusion, the Chicago-based sequencing, informatics, and precision medicine company has now brought in $620 million in venture capital since its founding in 2015.
With the new money, the firm hopes to continue on its rapid growth trajectory as it expands beyond its original focus on cancer into diabetes, depression, and cardiology and looks to establish an overseas presence.
"This is not a strategic departure from the initiatives we laid out a year ago," said Founder and CEO Eric Lefkofsky. Those included moving into the new therapeutic areas in late 2019 and expanding its office and laboratory space through both organic growth and acquisition.
"We're focused on bringing our platform to as many physicians as we can and helping them make the best decisions they can so each patient is on their own optimal therapeutic path," Lefkofsky said.
Tempus has opened a second next-generation sequencing lab after taking over additional office space in the massive, century-old former Montgomery Ward warehouse building along the Chicago River that also houses Groupon, another company Lefkofsky started. Additionally, the firm now has a lab in Alpharetta, Georgia, by virtue of its December acquisition of Akesogen for an undisclosed sum.
The CLIA-compliant and CAP-accredited Akesogen lab gave Tempus new capabilities, including microbiomic profiling, whole-genome genotyping, and epigenomic methylation profiling.
"They expanded our repertoire of tests that we offer and also bring a whole host of clients we didn't have," Lefkofsky said. "It was a good fit for us."
He said that the Atlanta-area lab also will expand Tempus' whole-exome germline testing capacity, which is key to the company's move into depression screening.
The company now has its sights set on international expansion. "We'll eventually open up satellite offices and/or labs in Asia and Europe," Lefkofsky said.
While the company has been "scoping those markets" of late, according to the CEO, the current COVID-19 pandemic has abruptly curtailed international travel and temporarily rendered some countries off limits. "But long term, we don't see it creating any instability to our plans," he said.
Tempus had been the subject of speculation about an initial public offering, though that was before the current sharp downturn in the stock market in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. For now, it remains privately held, and thus mostly shielded from the volatility.
"This capital raise will allow us to continue to make [our planned] investments," Lefkofsky said.
Outside of its growth plans, the precision medicine firm hit a major goal by reducing turnaround time for its most popular test, the 648-somatic-gene Tempus xT panel, to less than 10 days by the end of 2019. Tempus is now able to deliver results in nine days from receipt of a sample. The company also expanded the xT test late last year from a previous iteration that studied 596 genes.
"This is where we want it to be on solid-tumor profiling," Lefkofsky said. "You can turn around smaller panels faster, but if you want to generate the kind of data we generate here, about 10 days from receipt of tissue, you're pretty fast."
The company also is pushing forward with its Tempus Integrated Molecular Evaluation (TIME) Trial service, which launched at the 2019 American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting last June.
TIME Trial features a proprietary technology platform that analyzes molecular and clinical data on cancer patients in real time to find suitable and convenient trials for individuals. The program only sends patients to prequalified academic and community cancer centers so those who qualify can enroll right away.
Lefkofsky said that close to 1,500 oncologists have enrolled in the TIME Trial network to date and that the program includes or is in the process of adding 30 specific clinical trials. Participants include both smaller rural community practices that don't typically have access to many trials and academic medical centers that, according to Lefkofsky, want more molecularly targeted research efforts.
"We have been able to convince both to play by a common set of rules in terms of budget, rate card, logistics, and standards, so that when we identify a patient within our network that's in the TIME Trial program, we're able to open up that trial within about two to three weeks," Lefkofsky said.
Tempus has not disclosed the names of its TIME Trial partners.
On the personnel side, Tempus has made several high-profile hires and appointments of late.
Notably, the company last summer hired Joel Dudley as senior vice president of research, in charge of all non-oncology R&D efforts. Dudley previously was executive VP for precision health at Mount Sinai Health System and founding director of the Institute for Next Generation Healthcare at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
The firm also brought aboard Lauren Silvis to fill the newly created role of senior vice president of external affairs, in charge of all regulatory, public policy, and government affairs, as it beefs up its presence in Washington, DC. Silvis had been chief of staff to former US Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb.
A few months later, Tempus added Gottlieb himself to its board of directors. Gottlieb has since also landed on the board of Illumina and has been a sought-after guest on television programs covering the COVID-19 outbreak and response.
In January, the company named Ari Caroline senior VP of health strategy and Iker Huerga VP of data engineering and strategy after acquiring all the personnel from Da'At AI, a healthcare artificial intelligence firm that the two founded. Caroline previously was chief analytics officer at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, while Huerga served as director of engineering and applied machine learning for that New York institution.
Tempus now employs close to 1,100 people.