Here we describe the LifeTime Initiative, which aims to track, understand and target human cells during the onset and progression of complex diseases, and to analyse their response to therapy at single-cell resolution. This mission will be implemented through the development, integration and application of single-cell multi-omics and imaging, artificial intelligence and patient-derived experimental disease models during the progression from health to disease. The analysis of large molecular and clinical datasets will identify molecular mechanisms, create predictive computational models of disease progression, and reveal new drug targets and therapies. The timely detection and interception of disease embedded in an ethical and patient-centred vision will be achieved through interactions across academia, hospitals, patient associations, health data management systems and industry. The application of this strategy to key medical challenges in cancer, neurological and neuropsychiatric disorders, and infectious, chronic inflammatory and cardiovascular diseases at the single-cell level will usher in cell-based interceptive medicine in Europe over the next decade.