Sanford Health Executive Vice President Micah Aberson; Denny Sanford; Veterans Administration Secretary Robert Wilkie; Sanford Health President and CEO Kelby Krabbenhoft; U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas; and Deepak Voora, M.D., announce a new partnership at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on March 12, 2019.

Donation funds new veterans’ care initiative

March 18, 2019

On March 12, leaders from Sanford Health and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs convened in Washington, D.C., to announce a partnership with major implications for the health care of veterans and the future of precision medicine.

Watch the announcement or view the photo album on Facebook.

Through a unique public-private initiative called PHASeR: Pharmacogenomics Action for Cancer Survivorship, the two entities will provide free genetic testing to VA patients.

The program is funded by a $25 million donation from philanthropist Denny Sanford and a matching fundraising effort from Sanford Health.


Why genetic testing?

Everyone responds to medications differently. Sometimes these differences are genetic.

Pharmacogenetic testing, or PGx, uses a patient’s DNA to help predict how he or she will respond to different types of medications such as antidepressants, anticoagulants and opioids.

More than 90 percent of patients who have received pharmacogenetic testing through Sanford’s genetic medicine program, Sanford Imagenetics, have been found to carry a genetic change that could affect medication selection or dosing.

Test results are shared with physicians through the electronic medical record to ensure efficiency and accuracy in choosing treatments, ultimately helping to reduce trial and error and adverse side effects.


Who can receive testing?

PHASeR will launch this year at a pilot site in Durham, N.C. It will initially enroll cancer survivors. By 2022, it will expand to up to 250,000 U.S. veterans at 125 VA sites.

“This will be the largest pharmacogenetic testing effort in the country by orders of magnitude,” said Dr. Deepak Voora of the Duke University School of Medicine who will direct the PHASeR Program.

“We have the potential to improve patient care for each veteran we test, and the scale of the effort will allow us to see trends and conduct research that could improve medical care for the entire population.”

Current and past service members who are Sanford Health patients currently have access to the Sanford Chip genetic screening test at no cost. These patients need to meet the eligibility for the Sanford Chip, including an active My Sanford Chart account and a designated Sanford Health primary care provider.


What will this cost?

This program comes at no cost to veterans or taxpayers thanks to a $25 million gift from philanthropist Denny Sanford and a matching fundraising effort from Sanford Health.

“I spent eight years in the Air Reserves at the Minneapolis Saint Paul Air Reserve Station, which gave me a window into the incredible sacrifices made by our nation’s service members and their families,” Sanford said.

“I’ve invested in this unique partnership between Sanford Health and the VA as a tribute to those brave, selfless men and women.”


How will the program work?

Veterans will access the test at their local VA facility, and Sanford Health will process the tests at its South Dakota-based Imagenetics facility. Then the patient’s physician will receive the test results to help with their clinical decision-making for a variety of pharmaceutical treatments, including pain management, mental health issues and cardiovascular diseases.

The PHASeR program also will eventually support genetic counseling for patients.


What are the larger implications of this program?

The program will not only benefit veterans on an individual basis, but it will contribute to a greater understanding about how patients metabolize different medications, leading to more effective diagnosis and treatment strategies for all people.

Additionally, the program could help reduce health care costs by limiting inappropriate treatments and adverse drug reactions, which the National Institutes of Health estimates cost up to $30 billion a year.


How did this partnership with the VA come about?

According to Kelby Krabbenhoft, Sanford Health president and CEO, the idea surfaced about a year ago and felt like “a natural way” to give back.

“We knew it was time to put veterans first, Krabbenhoft said. “They’re willing to sacrifice their lives, and we should do something about their health care.”

In recent years, Sanford Health has made support for veterans a centerpiece of its larger mission.

  • In 2017, the health system created the Sanford Department of Veterans and Military Services to help veterans and military personnel obtain health care services, navigate care and insurance coverage, and identify wellness services and search for employment opportunities.


  • The following year, it unveiled Veterans Clubs at its medical centers in Fargo, N.D., and Sioux Falls, S.D. The clubs are the first of their kind in the United States, and the health system plans to open more in other regions.



To support PHASeR or another initiative supporting veterans at Sanford Health, please contact a Foundation office near you