New Initiative Seeks to Improve Treatment Options for Veterans
A collaborative program between the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Phoenix and the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care System could prevent adverse drug events, save lives and decrease health care costs for veterans.

By Teresa Joseph, College of Medicine – Phoenix
Sept. 30, 2019

The University of Arizona College of Medicine – Phoenix is partnering with the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care System to provide personalized drug treatment for veterans.

The program, Pharmacogenomics Action for Cancer Survivorship, is a collaboration between the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Sanford Health, a Midwest-based health care system, with the goal to improve patient treatment by using medications tailored to their genes. It is funded by a $25 million gift from philanthropist Denny Sanford and a matching fundraising effort from Sanford Health.

Although the program initially focused on cancer survivors, veterans without cancer also can benefit from PHASeR. The pharmacogenomics tests will help physicians make clinical decisions for a variety of pharmaceutical treatments, including mental health and cardiovascular diseases, as well as pain management.

Dr. Will Heise, assistant professor in the Division of Clinical Data Analytics and Decision Support at the UA College of Medicine – Phoenix, said PHASeR seeks to prevent adverse reactions to drugs, save lives and decrease health care costs over time.

“The Veteran’s Administration is heavily invested in pharmacogenomics research and precision medicine,” Heise said. “Arizona veterans will benefit from our early entry into these kinds of programs. We serve a huge and growing number of veterans through the Arizona VA systems and have a talented precision medicine and biomedical informatics team at the UA College of Medicine – Phoenix.”

Pharmacogenomics is the study of how genes affect a patient’s response to drugs. By studying an individual’s genes through a simple blood draw, physicians can determine which medications may be more effective for patients and which ones are less likely to produce adverse reactions. The patient’s current medications may be adjusted based on the tests. The results will be applicable throughout the patient’s lifetime and may help a physician select medications in the future, increasing their effectiveness and decreasing the risk of side effects.

“This partnership signals the commitment of the Phoenix VA and UA College of Medicine – Phoenix to be a powerhouse of pharmacogenomics outcomes research,” Heise said. “This is truly cutting-edge medicine just starting to demonstrate its full potential.”

Although cancer survivors are of specific interest, a cancer diagnosis is not required to participate in the program, which will expand to as many as 250,000 veterans at more than 100 sites nationally by 2022. It launched in March in Durham, N.C.

Dr. Deepak Voora, director of the VA PHASeR Program, said the pilot is an opportunity to give back to veterans.

“This enhances the VA’s ability to meet new and emerging needs for veterans, their families and caregivers,” said Voora, who is also an associate professor in the Department of Medicine and the Center for Applied Genomics and Precision Medicine at Duke University School of Medicine.

Veterans can obtain access to the pharmacogenomics testing through a blood draw at their local VA facility. Sanford Health processes the tests at its South Dakota facility, and the patient and his or her physician will receive the results to help decide whether to change treatment.

A version of this article originally appeared on the UA Health Sciences website:


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Teresa Joseph

College of Medicine – Phoenix