Dying Dad Pleads for Unapproved Cancer Drug

PHOTO: Nick and Amy Auden with their children, Locky, 7, Hayley, 5, and Evan, 1.
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A Denver man has one last chance to beat terminal cancer: a so-called wonder drug that helps a patient's immune system shrink tumors for good.

The trouble is, hours after Nick Auden, 40, was admitted into a clinical trial on July 2, he suffered a complication and was immediately disqualified. What's more, the drug companies that make the "wonder drug" won't allow him to take it on his own.

"I could not sleep," his wife, Amy Auden, told ABCNews.com. "I was lying awake at night thinking, I can't just lie here and do nothing."

Read about a baby who got melanoma in the womb and is thriving.

Without the drug, Auden's doctor told his wife that "this is the end of the road," and that her husband had between three and six months to live.

So she started sending emails at 3 a.m. and the "Save Locky's Dad" campaign was born. The Audens aren't looking for money -- just signatures on a petition addressed to drug companies Merck and Bristol-Myers Squibb, pleading for access to one of their immune-boosting anti-PD-1 cancer drugs.

Lachlan, nicknamed "Locky," is Auden's 7-year-old son, and he is included in a video on the "Save Locky's Dad" website asking for people to support his dad.

"I want my dad to get the PD-1 drug because then I can do the things I like to do with him all the time," Locky says in the video, flashing a smile that's missing two front teeth between shots of the two playing Frisbee.

The Audens Change.org petition has more than 189,000 signatures and counting.

Auden's story started in March 2010, when he had a cancerous mole removed. Although it put him at risk for more skin cancer, he continued to live an active life, running, biking and hiking.

But in September 2011, Auden said his doctors sat him down and told him the cancer had returned and had spread throughout his body. The official diagnosis was stage 4 melanoma.

"Some people survive, 90-odd percent don't," he said. "There's no doubt that was tough news. I had trouble not being emotional about it every time I thought of the concept of not being there to watch the kids grow up."

Auden's wife was pregnant with the couple's third child when doctors told her husband that his median life expectancy was between six and nine months.

Two years of radiation and other experimental treatments later, Auden's still alive, but time is running out, his doctors say.

Auden continues to stay fit despite the cancer. He took a long ride on his mountain bike this week regardless of a tumor on his left femur that doctors are treating with radiation.

"Every now and then, I have things like that that pop up," he said of the tumor.

When he learned about the anti-PD-1 drugs and their ability to treat melanoma, he got excited. Studies of Merck's version of the drug found that 38 percent of participants in a clinical trial for patients with melanoma saw tumors shrink. Of those who took the highest doses of the drug, 52 percent experienced tumor shrinkage.

Dr. Jedd Wolchok, an oncologist who has not met or treated Auden but has corresponded with him through email, told ABCNews.com that immune cells typically don't attack cancer in a meaningful way because of a kind of natural brake function called PD-1. But the new anti-PD-1 drugs cancel out that brake and allow the immune cells to attack the cancer.

Although there are currently no anti-PD-1 drugs in "compassionate use" trials -- trials for individuals who don't qualify for clinical trials but still want the drug -- Wolchok said there was chance the drug could offer Auden long-term benefits.

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