Top cancer researcher moves from Sanford to Avera

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — A researcher that Dakotas-based Sanford Health hired to be the point man in an effort to find a cure for breast cancer has moved to the competing Avera Health network.

Brian Leyland-Jones and 10 of his Sanford colleagues moved to Avera on Jan. 2, saying Avera is a better fit for the team, Leyland-Jones told the Argus Leader ( ).

“We felt very attracted to work with an organization that holds Christian values as the core of its practice,” he said. “From a scientific viewpoint, they have the Avera Institute of Human Genetics.”

Leyland-Jones is not critical of his previous employer.

“Sanford Health has great doctors. They’ve got great researchers,” he said. “I actually miss the clinical interaction with the doctors there.”

Leyland-Jones, 64, is a British-born scientist who had worked in London, New York, Montreal and Atlanta. In 2012, he cited Sanford CEO Kelby Krabbenhoft’s views on research and the financial support of Sioux Falls philanthropist T. Denny Sanford as reasons for moving to Sioux Falls.

“Denny is a remarkable man, when you think of what Denny has done for this community. They’re a great team of people,” Leyland-Jones said this week. “This is just a better fit for us.”

Sanford Health in 2011 announced a $100 million effort to find a cure for breast cancer, thanks to a donation from T. Denny Sanford. Officials plan to break ground this year on a multimillion-dollar breast cancer facility in Sioux Falls, S.D., to bring the initiative under one roof. Sanford also plans to expand the Roger Maris Cancer Center in Fargo, N.D., by 2017.

Cindy Morrison, executive vice president of marketing at Sanford, said Sanford’s work on breast cancer continues uninterrupted. The health network has not commented on the circumstances of Leyland-Jones’ departure.

“It became apparent that we were moving in different directions, resulting in the change,” Morrison said.

Leyland-Jones said he wishes Sanford and Avera could work together.

“At previous places that I’ve worked, I haven’t seen this kind of competition between institutions,” he said. “I saw Avera patients when I was at Sanford. I would be thrilled to see Sanford patients over here. I think the more we share the ideas and treatments together … the better it would be for all of us.”

Morrison said in her statement that “Sanford already works collaboratively with a variety of regional and national research organizations, and it is too soon to know where that path might lead.”

David Kapaska, regional president and CEO at Avera McKennan hospital in Sioux Falls, said competition has advantages and disadvantages.

“Competition keeps us all sharp. On the other hand … we’re in a smaller community compared to Chicago or Kansas City, and competition can almost get personal,” he said.


Information from: Argus Leader,

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