Merck Expands Cancer Drug Access But Too Late for Denver Dad

Dad died four months before drug he pleaded for became available outside trials.

ByABC News
March 18, 2014, 10:49 AM

March 18, 2014— -- A pharmaceutical company has expanded access to a breakthrough drug but it was too late for a Denver dad who was pleading for it.

More than half a million people signed a petition last fall to help Nick Auden, a 41-year-old father of three, get access to the so-called anti-PD-1 drug, which he hoped would save him from dying of cancer.

But the petition didn’t work in time for Auden. He died at home on Nov. 22.

“It is absolutely devastating that it was only a matter of timing that Nick did not get the drug,” his wife Amy Auden told in an email. “Every minute of every day, I am reminded that Nick is not here, and I am widowed at 38 with three young kids.”

Read more about how Nick was disqualified from a clinical trial at the last minute.

Nick Auden was admitted into a clinical trial to get what he called a "wonder drug" to treat his stage 4 melanoma over the summer, but hours later, he suffered a complication and was immediately disqualified from the trial. What's more, the drug companies that make the drug wouldn't allow him to take it on his own.

Two drug companies –- Merck and Bristol-Myers Squibb –- make versions of the so-called anti-PD-1 drug, which teaches the immune system to attack cancer, but they both declined to provide it to Auden outside of a clinical trial. Bristol-Myers Squibb cited safety concerns, and Merck said it just didn't have enough of the drug to give to him.

So after lying awake at 3 a.m. last summer, Amy Auden started "Save Locky's Dad," an online petition and campaign named for the couple's eldest son, 7-year-old Locky. The goal was to get the companies to give Nick Auden the drug under "compassionate use" or "expanded access" programs, which allow still unapproved drugs to be used outside clinical trials.

Merck confirmed to that it has recently expanded access to its version of the drug, but said it had been planning to offer it outside of clinical trials once it had built up its supply of the drug and collected enough information about the benefits and risks. Bristol-Myers Squibb still does not provide the drug outside of clinical trials.

“We have been accelerating all aspects of the development program to bring this investigational medicine to as many people who might benefit from it as quickly and fairly as possible,” Merck spokesman Ian McConnell told today. “Now that we have more safety and efficacy data in melanoma, and we have adequate supply we have started our planned [Expanded Access Program] in the U.S. for treatment of eligible patients with advanced melanoma.”

Though the drug could have been a cure for Nick Auden, there’s also a possibility that it wouldn’t have worked at all, he said last fall.

"I have been given a zero chance of survival past the next few months without this drug," he told in an email last October. "It looks pretty good to me!"

"Not everyone has as short a window as I," Nick Auden continued. "Why can't they supply me now rather than me missing by a couple of months? Imagine Amy explaining that to the kids."

Amy Auden said she is trying to focus on the fact that many people will benefit from the expanded access program even though her husband could not. She said the people at Merck told her they didn’t want to “play God” by giving the drug to Nick when they couldn’t give it to everyone.

“However by denying Nick the drug, they in effect did just that,” she said.