Scotty's Pub owner battles brain tumor as part of groundbreaking cancer vaccine study

Note: This story was amended on Tuesday, July 8, to reflect the ongoing first phase of the brain cancer vaccine study, to clarify how the vaccine operates, information on the recurrence rate and median life expectancy with chemotherapy.

by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Steve Michaud, owner of Scottys sports bar on Southwest Scholls Ferry Road, shares a moment with friends who have been customers for years. Michaud has gone nearly five years without a recurrence of the brain cancer that sent him to surgery, a chemotherapy regimen and most recently a clinical trial study of an experimental vaccine.Steve Michaud isn't given to deep analysis or philosophizing about things that've happened, or not happened, to him.

That includes the cancerous brain tumor from which he's been free of for nearly five years now.

While he admits to feeling anxious when he goes in for an MRI every three months, the Murrayhill neighborhood resident tries to attach no more significance to the ritual than getting an oil change for his truck.

"You just have to ignore it," he said of the uneasy feelings. "After five years, it's still every three months. Every three months you get it, and there's three months more. I'm bulldog tough. I'm not sitting here in anxiety."

Michaud, the longtime owner of Scotty's Neighborhood Pub on Southwest Scholls Ferry Road, recently took part in a potentially groundbreaking clinical trial of a cancer vaccine at the Providence Cancer Center in Northeast Portland. One of the first three patients in the study, Michaud underwent four treatments of a vaccine consisting of listeria monocytogenes, a virulent bacterium engineered to express cancer related proteins.

"This is the only study with brain tumors going on with this vaccine," said Dr. Marka Crittenden, director of translational radiation research at Providence. "Listeria we call a vector. It's really a carrier for cancer-related markers we're vaccinating against."

Michaud took part in the study's ongoing first phase, which tests the vaccine's overall tolerance and safety.

"This is the first that's been studied in a human," Crittenden said. "This is about safety primarily, and efficacy secondarily. To study efficacy, we'll have to enroll a lot more patients. We will follow (Michaud) over time to see how he does, when he recurs."

That's right, when. The recurrence rate for brain cancer remains almost 100 percent. High-grade brain tumors are among the most challenging cancers to cure using conventional therapy, surgery, radiation or chemotherapy.

With the addition of chemotherapy, median life expectancy for patients increased from about 12 months to 14 months.

"We haven't seen anything with a lot of promise (relating to) brain tumors," Crittenden said, noting that chemotherapy has only been regularly used for patients since the early 2000s. "We think there's a big need for it. Immunotherapy, which induces the body's own immune system to fight cancer, has shown a lot of promise."

Much like with the chemotherapy and surgery that eliminated his tumor, Michaud proved a worthy patient in the clinical trial.

by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Steve Michaud, owner of Scottys sports bar in Tigard, has been cancer free for more than four years after undergoing surgery to remove a brain tumor."He tolerated it well," Crittenden said of Michaud's steadily increasing vaccine dosages. "You get flulike symptoms for a couple of days. It activates the immune system. Just like a flu vaccine, the body is reacting to the vaccine. (Patients) get side effects, but they are limited."

The only part of the trial Michaud found arduous was being relegated to an 8-by-8-foot TV-free room with other participants after the vaccine was administered. Patients were there to have their vital signs monitored and to see if they experienced negative side effects from the medication.

"You need to stick around for six hours," he noted. "I'm not claustrophobic, but I was at the end of the six hours."

Out of the blue

Michaud, who's increasingly let his cadre of longstanding employees take the reins of Scotty's since his cancer ordeal began, had no health concerns prior to the January night when he experienced a seizure while driving home from Scotty's with his wife, Marianne.

"I hit the driveway pretty fast," he recalled. "She said, 'Jeez, what are you doing?' I went in the house and sat down. Marianne could tell I was screwed up. She called 911. By the time they got there, I was a babbling idiot."

That's about the last thing he remembers until three days later, when he woke up in Providence St. Vincent Medical Center. From there, it took about a month to diagnose his brain tumor.

"I was not having happy thoughts. That wasn't a good one. They did some more testing, and I decided to get the surgery," he said.

The operation took less than two hours.

"When the doctor came back, he said I had about two years left," he said.

While the radiation and chemotherapy he subsequently took on sapped his strength — his energy level remains diminished — Michaud considers himself fortunate for every month, week and day beyond that two years to enjoy time with Marianne, their two sons A.J., 28, and Andrew, 22, and his many friends at Scotty's.

"I'm probably the luckiest guy in the history of luck," he said.

by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Steve Michaud, owner of Scottys sports bar in Tigard, has been cancer free for more than four years after undergoing surgery to remove a brain tumor.

Daunting mission

As much promise as the listeria vaccine shows at this point, it will take some luck — along with time and significant financial backing — for the treatment to be approved for mainstream use, noted Dr. Keith Bahjat, director of the immune monitoring laboratory at Providence's Earl A. Chiles Cancer Research Institute.

"These studies take a significant amount of time and significant amounts of money," he said. "If money were unlimited, which it is not, we could see this push through clinical studies, and if the results are positive, have an application submitted to the FDA as an approved drug in five to six years' time."

To further its cause, the Providence research team is collaborating with Aduoro Biotech, a company recently focused on listeria-based vaccine platforms.

"What we've done is taken their platform and adapted the treatment with brain cancers," Bahjat said. "The whole thing is in collaboration."

Michaud, who makes it into Scotty's a couple times a week to check on things and hold court with his beloved customers and employees, emphasized he's only talking about his ordeal so that it might encourage others experiencing the same thing.

"The only reason I'm doing this is because I want people to have positive thoughts about having to beat cancer," he said. "Maybe people can look at how lucky I am, and see that that they too can do it."

For a man not given to philosophizing, Michaud confessed he may have learned a thing or two in recent years. "The only thing I've got to say," he said, "is there's no cancer that can beat you."

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