Sanford donates $25M to improve drug decisions for veterans

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota philanthropist Denny Sanford is donating $25 million to help fund a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs genetics study to determine which medications are most effective for pain management, disease and mental health issues.

Sanford Health will match Sanford’s donation and partner with the department in the DNA Drug Sensitivity Testing program — the nation’s largest pharmacogenetic testing effort, Veterans Affairs and Sanford Health announced Tuesday.

The program will initially focus on drugs for veterans who have survived cancer, and will launch in Durham, North Carolina, the Sioux Falls Argus Leader reported. It’s expected to reach up to 250,000 veterans at 125 sites by 2022.

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

The free tests use genetic markers to determine how patients metabolize, or break down, different classes of drugs such as antidepressants, anticoagulants and opioids. The faster the patient metabolizes the drug, the higher the dose required.

David Rowe, an Air Force veteran, took the test at Sanford a few months ago. Rowe said the results helped get him off medication he had been taking for heart problems for years.

“I thoroughly encourage any veteran to do this,” said Rowe, 67, a Vietnam veteran whose son has done three tours in Iraq. “It’s a simple blood test; that’s all it is, but they can do so much with it.”

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