South Bend man a ‘walking miracle’ after cancer treatment breakthrough – South Bend Tribune

Posted: September 6, 2017 at 9:45 pm

Scott McIntyre calls himself a walking miracle, and he wants to tell the world about it.

I was given three to six months to survive and Im 16 months in remission, said the 53-year-old South Bend man. I would love to get the story out and let people have hope. Dont give up. You never know.

On Friday, a University of Chicago Medicine marketing team shot video and still images of Scott at Shamrock Truck Sales, the semi-truck sales and service business he co-owns near LaPaz. His face will adorn billboards, digital and print ads in Chicagoland and northwest Indiana as soon as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approves what UCM is calling a revolutionary breakthrough in cancer treatment.

If that FDA approval comes and UCM is preparing for it to come very soon UCM will have one of the only facilities in the Midwest certified to administer chimeric antigen receptor T-cell infusion, or CAR T-cell, a newer form of immunotherapy.

Video: CAR T treatment gives hope in cancer fight

In CAR T-cell therapy, a type of white blood cell called T-cells are extracted from the patients blood and modified in the lab to recognize specific cancer cells. These supercharged T-cells are then infused back into the patient, where they search out and destroy cancer cells.

The therapy, often described as a living drug because it is customized with each patients T-cells, will be marketed as Kymriah by Swiss pharmaceutical maker Novartis.

Scott was excited to hear news Wednesday that the FDA approved the same treatment for a form of childhood leukemia, meaning, he hopes, that it won’t be long before it’s approved for his form of cancer, diffuse large B-cell lymphoma. The FDA called the approval “historic” because it marks the first cell-based gene therapy approved in the United States.

Scott is one of 130 patients nationally in the clinical trial for his form of lymphoma, and he was the first to receive the treatment at UCM. That happened in May 2016, when he had exhausted all other options.

Scott has been feeling good for just less than a year. Chemotherapy has taken his hair three times but he has a full head of it once again. He can play an entire round of golf with his son. An avid Notre Dame football fan and season ticket holder, he had to miss each game in 2015, but plans to attend every game this season.

In May 2013, Scott noticed a painful growth in his groin area. His family doctor, Dr. Joseph Caruso, said he had developed a swollen lymph node, which could have resulted from his body trying to fight off an infection. Caruso asked him if he had recently had an infection, and Scott recounted recently stepping on a rusty nail while the roof on his home was being replaced. Caruso prescribed an antibiotic and the swelling seemed to go away.

But four months later, while in the shower, Scott noticed another lump under his arm. He went back to Caruso, who referred him to South Bend-based Beacon Health System oncologist Dr. Thomas Reid. After some scans, Reid diagnosed Stage 3 lymphoma.

Reid administered the standard treatment, four cycles of a chemotherapy regimen known as R-CHOP, an effective but highly toxic blend of drugs causing severe side effects. The fourth cycle had to be delayed because he developed appendicitis, and it was tougher than the first three.

After all of that, the cancer started growing again just two months later.

Reid referred him to Dr. Sonali Smith, professor of medicine and director of UCMs lymphoma program. Smith and her team knew the CAR T-cell therapy was being investigated in a few select centers. Their short-term goal was to keep him alive until they could be cleared to administer the clinical trial.

In February 2015, Scott received a stem-cell transplant, which went smoothly. But three months later, the cancer again started growing. Participation in two more clinical trials and some precisely targeted radiation therapy bought a little more time, but by late 2015, his lymphoma was gaining on him.

Then, in early February 2016, the UCM team received the go-ahead for the CAR T-cell treatment and began harvesting his T cells, a process that resembles dialysis. Scott said another patient had been slated to receive the treatment first, but that patient died.

It was during an appointment in May 2016, just a week before the treatment, that Scott first grasped how close he was to dying. Smith told him the treatment could cause severe side effects, including death. Five people in the trial had died.

I said, I understand. What other options do I have? Scott recalled. She says, Oh youve already surpassed all expectations. I said, What do you mean by that? And thats when she said, after the stem cell, if it comes back, life expectancy is six months. It was a rough day. On the way home I was pretty shaken up.

A little after 9:30 a.m. on May 18, 2016, Scott, sporting a Notre Dame baseball cap, was prepared for the treatment. Carefully observing was Dr. Michael Bishop, professor of medicine and director of the Hematopoietic Cellular Therapy Program at UCM, and about a dozen members of his team. A technician brought in his modified T-cells, thawed them out and infused them into Scott intravenously.

Ten minutes later, the treatment was finished. Afterward, he and his wife Cindy spent 28 days in the hospital and then were required to live in an apartment within 10 minutes of the university hospital. They were allowed to move back home to South Bend in July, about two months after the treatment.

Its incredible, Cindy said of Scotts recovery thus far. We did not realize what we were getting into, all of the risks, until days before. She (Dr. Smith) may have mentioned it but it didnt sink in. We both realized that win, lose or draw, theyre going to learn so much, just from how he responds to it.

Cindy praised how well Drs. Reid and Smith worked together between South Bend and Chicago, and how they told them just enough to be informed without telling them so much that they panicked.

She said, theres this trial, Cindy said. This is for you. You were designed for this trial and it was designed for you. We just have to keep you going until we can give it to you.

The treatment was on a Wednesday. By Friday night, his first fever came and it wasnt a surprise. Once they enter the body, each T cell multiplies rapidly, producing thousands of offspring. Then they launch a vigorous assault. All of that warfare occurring inside the body can cause severe flu-like symptoms: fever, swelling, low blood pressure.

On Sunday his fever spiked to 104 degrees. They packed him in ice around his neck and under his arms, and managed to break the fever without sending him into intensive care.

He also experienced some neurological effects, including tremors, cognitive delays and blurred vision.

Now, more than a year later, Smith still wants to see Scott every three months, and he remains very susceptible to infections because his immunity will always be compromised not from the CAR T-cell but from all of the chemotherapy. He still has some swelling because the scar tissue from three surgeries restricts the flow of lymphotic fluids.

I feel it all the time and I have very limited range of movements but it doesnt stop me, he said.

Unless the lawn needs to be mowed, then it really bothers him, she said. Some things will never change.

She said she never imagined she had married a pioneer.

I knew I had married somebody very unique, very special, but definitely not a pioneer, she said. He was the last person you ever thought would be sick. Doesnt drink. Doesnt smoke. Never had ventured on the wild side. This wasnt supposed to happen.

So far the FDA has only approved T-cell treatments for blood cancers, such as lymphoma and leukemia, but not solid tumor cancers, such as breast and colon cancer, which kill many more people. But Bishop of UCM said that day is coming. He expects those clinical trials to begin within a year or two, and receive FDA approval within about five years.

Its very exciting, Bishop said. The technology is a little more complicated but it has the potential to treat a broad spectrum of cancers. Ive been doing this for 25 years and this is one of the most significant advances Ive seen in my career.

Meanwhile, Scott will keep telling his story of hope to everyone he can, including himself. Bishop said Scott’s cancer has a 10- to 20-percent chance to recur.

Youre still thinking that the other shoe can drop, Scott said. The mantra I use when negative thoughts enter my head is, Alright Scott, are you giving up? No. Are you quitting? No. Then shut up. I dont know if that will ever go away.

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South Bend man a ‘walking miracle’ after cancer treatment breakthrough – South Bend Tribune

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