Ricky Gervais and other celebrities have thrown their support behind an Australian man’s extraordinary campaign to convince two global drug companies to give him a promising new drug that could save his life.
Nick Auden, a Melbourne-born father of three, is in a heart breaking position. He has been told advanced melanoma will claim his life within months and that his only chance to live lies in two experimental drugs he cannot access.
In a race against time, Mr Auden’s family has launched a website called "Save Locky’s Dad", a video on YouTube and a petition on Change.Org to get two multibillion-dollar drug companies – Merck and Bristol-Myers Squibb – to give him compassionate access to their new ‘‘anti PD-1’’ drugs.
Within two weeks, the petition has been signed by nearly 25,000 people and has reached comedians Ricky Gervais and Sarah Silverman, who have both shared it on social media.
In the video, Mr Auden’s seven-year-old son Lachlan says he hopes his father will get one of the drugs called Lambrolizumab and Nivolumab so he can continue to spend time with him.
‘‘My Dad is so strong that he can get better,’’ he says.
In the petition, Mr Auden’s wife, Amy, says her husband could be a remarkable case study of survival for the companies which are building evidence for the drugs to be approved by regulators.
‘‘I believe Nick can jump this last hurdle if Merck and Bristol-Myers Squibb give him that chance," she writes.
‘‘I can’t imagine life without Nick. I can’t imagine telling Locky he has to watch the big game alone, telling Hayley that Daddy can’t take her bike-riding any more, or knowing that my youngest son won’t even remember his dad. I can’t live with that possibility and I won’t. I will never stop fighting to save my husband."
Merck and Bristol-Myers Squibb are currently running competing clinical trials of the two drugs which have been billed as potential "wonder drugs" for people with advanced melanoma.
The new drugs, which harness the immune system to fight cancer, are still in early development, but results from small trials so far suggest they can shrink tumours in at least half the people who take them. It is unclear whether they can cure people, but cancer specialists say some people have lived years on the drugs when they would have otherwise died within months.
Businessman and Grand Prix boss Ron Walker recently credited one of the drugs, Lambrolizumab, with saving his life after he travelled to the US to participate in a clinical trial.
I can't live with that possibility and I won't. I will never stop fighting to save my husband.
Mr Auden, who is living in the US for work but has a home in Melbourne, said trial participants had told him they were clear of the disease. After being told the drugs were his last chance, Mr Auden tried to get on to clinical trials this year but narrowly missed out.
Rather than lying down, the trained lawyer who works as a commercial manager for Orica in Colorado, has decided to fight for access any way he can.
He is hopeful he can get approval from America’s drug regulator, the FDA, for single-use access to the drugs, and his doctor has agreed to give them to him if one of the pharmaceutical companies comes through.
"It’s pretty simple. With the drug, I have a great chance and without it, I don’t," he said.
Mr Auden said neither company could legally sell their drugs to him while they are still in development, but sometimes they give people "compassionate" or "expanded" access if patients have a serious and or life-threatening disease, have no real alternative and fall out of the criteria for clinical trials.
"For those three, it’s a tick tick tick for me," he said.
Mr Auden said although he knew a pharmaceutical company’s prerogative was to build a case for its drug with clinical trials and then move into large-scale production, he hoped staff would listen to his plea to become part of their studies.
"I don’t have my business hat on, I have my family man hat on and quite simply, I have a gorgeous wife and three beautiful children. I want to see them grow up and be part of their life ... I need this drug."
Fairfax Media asked both companies if they would give Mr Auden access to their drugs. Spokespeople for both companies would not comment on his case but said the drugs were only available to people through clinical trials at the moment.
Both said the companies were working as fast as they could to make the drugs more widely available to people with melanoma.
A spokeswoman for BMS said: "We empathise with patients who have limited treatment options and will continue to assess available data on Nivolumab to determine if the established benefit/risk profile allows for expanded access use outside a well-controlled clinical trial in the future.’’
A previous version of this story suggested Nick Auden had already received approval from the FDA for single-use access of one of the drugs if a drug company gives it to him. This is incorrect. Mr Auden is hopeful of getting FDA approval if one of the companies gives him the drug. The text has been changed.