UM Unveils New L.S. Skaggs Institute for Health Innovation

Pharmacy faculty members Erica Woodahl (left) and Hayley Blackburn are part of UM’s new L.S. Skaggs Institute for Health Innovation, which will offer the field of pharmacogenetics to Montanans.

MISSOULA – The University of Montana announces the creation of the new L.S. Skaggs Institute for Health Innovation (SIHI) in the College of Health. The Institute will serve Montana as a statewide hub for health education, research and outreach to improve access to health care for all Montanans, particularly those living in underserved communities.

One mission of the SIHI is to offer Montanans pharmacogenetics – the process of analyzing how the genetic makeup of an individual affects their response to medications.

Pharmacogenetics is a model of cutting-edge innovation in health care called precision medicine. Precision medicine uses patient-specific information such as genetics to tailor disease diagnosis and treatment. Instead of prescribing a one-size-fits-all drug, health-care providers customize a person’s treatment plan tailored to that individual, using a patient’s genetic profile to choose the safest and most effective medications.

  Pharmacogenetic consultations will be provided via telehealth, allowing these services to be used by health-care professionals and patients statewide. Additionally, SIHI will provide broad interprofessional telehealth services across the state, while providing hands-on training opportunities for pharmacy students and other trainees at the UM College of Health.

 “Montana is a large, rural state that constantly battles a shortage of health-care providers and limited access to cutting-edge health innovations,” said Dr. Hayley Blackburn, assistant professor in the Skaggs School of Pharmacy. “Pharmacists are highly trained health-care professionals who can use their expertise to help fill those gaps and improve access to care.”

Dr. Erica Woodahl, a professor in the Skaggs School of Pharmacy, said the institute will prepare the next generation of health-care professionals while ensuring Montanans have broad access to emerging innovations like telehealth and precision medicine.

Woodahl, a leader in pharmacogenetics among rural and tribal populations, said SIHI is poised to be the first in the country to deliver widespread adoption of pharmacogenetics in rural and tribal settings.

 “Most Montanans do not have access to pharmacogenetic testing,” she said. “The institute provides an exciting opportunity to expand access to pharmacogenetics for patients across the state and to train health professionals in this rapidly growing field.”

While Montanans have previously leveraged telehealth to improve health-care access, the COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the importance of telehealth across Montana and the need for telehealth training for health professionals. The institute was jump-started by a generous donation from The ALSAM Foundation, a Utah-based organization founded by L.S. Skaggs and his wife, Aline W. Skaggs.   

Dr. Marketa Marvanova, dean of the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and acting dean of the College of Health, said the new institute will transform the UM College of Health.

“Health innovations like telehealth and precision medicine offer expanded roles for health-care professionals, and the institute will offer patients access to care that might not otherwise be available,” Marvanova said. “SIHI will facilitate delivery of innovative services to rural and tribal populations and improve health outcomes for Montanans.”


Contact: Erica Woodahl, professor, UM Skaggs School of Pharmacy, 406-243-4129,; Hayley Blackburn, assistant professor, UM Skaggs School of Pharmacy, 406-243-6796,