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New Oral Anticoagulants: Comparative Pharmacology with Vitamin K Antagonists

Abstract

New oral anticoagulants (OACs) that directly inhibit Factor Xa (FXa) or thrombin have been developed for the long-term prevention of thromboembolic disorders. These novel agents provide numerous benefits over older vitamin K antagonists (VKAs) due to major pharmacological differences. VKAs are economical and very well characterized, but have important limitations that can outweigh these advantages, such as slow onset of action, narrow therapeutic window and unpredictable anticoagulant effect. VKA-associated dietary precautions, monitoring and dosing adjustments to maintain international normalized ratio (INR) within therapeutic range, and bridging therapy, are inconvenient for patients, expensive, and may result in inappropriate use of VKA therapy. This may lead to increased bleeding risk or reduced anticoagulation and increased risk of thrombotic events. The new OACs have rapid onset of action, low potential for food and drug interactions, and predictable anticoagulant effect that removes the need for routine monitoring. FXa inhibitors, e.g. rivaroxaban and apixaban, are potent, oral direct inhibitors of prothrombinase-bound, clot-associated or free FXa. Both agents have a rapid onset of action, a wide therapeutic window, little or no interaction with food and other drugs, minimal inter-patient variability, and display similar pharmacokinetics in different patient populations. Since both are substrates, co-administration of rivaroxaban and apixaban with strong cytochrome P450 (CYP) 3A4 and permeability glycoprotein (P-gp) inhibitors and inducers can result in substantial changes in plasma concentrations due to altered clearance rates; consequently, their concomitant use is contraindicated and caution is required when used concomitantly with strong CYP3A4 and P-gp inducers. Although parenteral oral direct thrombin inhibitors (DTIs), such as argatroban and bivalirudin, have been on the market for years, DTIs such as dabigatran are novel synthetic thrombin antagonists. Dabigatran etexilate is a low-molecular-weight non-active pro-drug that is administered orally and converted rapidly to its active form, dabigatran—a potent, competitive and reversible DTI. Dabigatran has an advantage over the indirect thrombin inhibitors, unfractionated heparin and low-molecular-weight heparin, in that it inhibits free and fibrin-bound thrombin. The reversible binding of dabigatran may provide safer and more predictable anticoagulant treatment than seen with irreversible, non-covalent thrombin inhibitors, e.g. hirudin. Dabigatran shows a very low potential for drug–drug interactions. However, co-administration of dabigatran etexilate with other anticoagulants and antiplatelet agents can increase the bleeding risk. Although the new agents are pharmacologically better than VKAs—particularly in terms of fixed dosing, rapid onset of action, no INR monitoring and lower risk of drug interactions—there are some differences between them: the bioavailability of dabigatran is lower than rivaroxaban and apixaban, and so the dabigatran dosage required is higher; lower protein binding of dabigatran reduces the variability related to albuminaemia. The risk of metabolic drug–drug interactions also appears to differ between OACs: VKAs > rivaroxaban > apixaban > dabigatran. The convenience of the new OACs has translated into improvements in efficacy and safety as shown in phase III randomized trials. The new anticoagulants so far offer the greatest promise and opportunity for the replacement of VKAs.

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Acknowledgments

No sources of funding were used to assist in the preparation of this review. The author declares that no conflicts of interest exist.

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Correspondence to Francesco Scaglione.

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Scaglione, F. New Oral Anticoagulants: Comparative Pharmacology with Vitamin K Antagonists. Clin Pharmacokinet 52, 69–82 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40262-012-0030-9

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Keywords

  • Thrombin
  • International Normalize Ratio
  • Dabigatran
  • Rivaroxaban
  • Apixaban