The ideal anticoagulant drug would prevent pathologic thrombosis and limit reperfusion injury yet allow a normal response to vascular injury and limit bleeding. Theoretically this could be accomplished by preservation of the TF-VIIa initiation phase of the clotting mechanism with attenuation of the secondary intrinsic pathway propagation phase of clot development. At this time such a drug does not exist; all anticoagulants and fibrinolytic drugs have an increased bleeding risk as their principle toxicity.
INDIRECT THROMBIN INHIBITORS
The indirect thrombin inhibitors are so-named because their antithrombotic effect is exerted by their interaction with a separate protein, antithrombin. Unfractionated heparin (UFH), also known as high-molecular-weight (HMW) heparin, low-molecular-weight (LMW) heparin, and the synthetic pentasaccharide fondaparinux bind to antithrombin and enhance its inactivation of factor Xa (Figure 34–4). Unfractionated heparin and to a lesser extent LMW heparin also enhance antithrombin’s inactivation of thrombin.
Differences between low-molecular-weight (LMW) heparins and high-molecular-weight heparin (unfractionated heparin). Fondaparinux is a small pentasaccharide fragment of heparin. Activated antithrombin III (AT III) degrades thrombin, factor X, and several other factors. Binding of these drugs to AT III can increase the catalytic action of AT III 1000-fold. The combination of AT III with unfractionated heparin increases degradation of both factor Xa and thrombin. Combination with fondaparinux or LMW heparin more selectively increases degradation of Xa.
Chemistry & Mechanism of Action
Heparin is a heterogeneous mixture of sulfated mucopolysaccharides. It binds to endothelial cell surfaces and a variety of plasma proteins. Its biologic activity is dependent upon the endogenous anticoagulant antithrombin. Antithrombin inhibits clotting factor proteases, especially thrombin (IIa), IXa, and Xa, by forming equimolar stable complexes with them. In the absence of heparin, these reactions are slow; in the presence of heparin, they are accelerated 1000-fold. Only about a third of the molecules in commercial heparin preparations have an accelerating effect because the remainder lack the unique pentasaccharide sequence needed for high-affinity binding to antithrombin. The active heparin molecules bind tightly to antithrombin and cause a conformational change in this inhibitor. The conformational change of antithrombin exposes its active site for more rapid interaction with the proteases (the activated clotting factors). Heparin functions as a cofactor for the antithrombin-protease reaction without being consumed. Once the antithrombin-protease complex is formed, heparin is released intact for renewed binding to more antithrombin.
The antithrombin binding region of commercial unfractionated heparin consists of repeating sulfated disaccharide units composed of D-glucosamine-L-iduronic acid and D-glucosamine-D-glucuronic acid. High-molecular-weight fractions of heparin with high affinity for antithrombin markedly inhibit blood coagulation by inhibiting all three factors, especially thrombin and factor Xa. Unfractionated heparin has a molecular weight range of 5000–30,000 Da. In contrast, the shorter-chain, low-molecular-weight fractions of heparin inhibit activated factor X but have less effect on thrombin than the HMW species. Nevertheless, numerous studies have demonstrated that LMW heparins such as enoxaparin, dalteparin, and tinzaparin are effective in several thromboembolic conditions. In fact, these LMW heparins—in comparison with UFH—have equal efficacy, increased bioavailability from the subcutaneous site of injection, and less frequent dosing requirements (once or twice daily is sufficient).
USP heparin is harmonized to the World Health Organization International Standard (IS) unit dose. Enoxaparin is obtained from the same sources as regular UFH, but doses are specified in milligrams. Fondaparinux also is specified in milligrams. Dalteparin, tinzaparin, and danaparoid (an LMW heparinoid containing heparan sulfate, dermatan sulfate, and chondroitin sulfate), on the other hand, are specified in anti-factor Xa units.
Monitoring of Heparin Effect
Close monitoring of the activated partial thromboplastin time (aPTT or PTT) is necessary in patients receiving UFH. Levels of UFH may also be determined by protamine titration (therapeutic levels 0.2–0.4 unit/mL) or anti-Xa units (therapeutic levels 0.3–0.7 unit/mL). Weight-based dosing of the LMW heparins results in predictable pharmacokinetics and plasma levels in patients with normal renal function. Therefore, LMW heparin levels are not generally measured except in the setting of renal insufficiency, obesity, and pregnancy. LMW heparin levels can be determined by anti-Xa units. For enoxaparin, peak therapeutic levels should be 0.5–1 unit/mL for twice-daily dosing, determined 4 hours after administration, and approximately 1.5 units/mL for once-daily dosing.
A. Bleeding and Miscellaneous Effects
The major adverse effect of heparin is bleeding. This risk can be decreased by scrupulous patient selection, careful control of dosage, and close monitoring. Elderly women and patients with renal failure are more prone to hemorrhage. Heparin is of animal origin and should be used cautiously in patients with allergy. Increased loss of hair and reversible alopecia have been reported. Long-term heparin therapy is associated with osteoporosis and spontaneous fractures. Heparin accelerates the clearing of postprandial lipemia by causing the release of lipoprotein lipase from tissues, and long-term use is associated with mineralocorticoid deficiency.
B. Heparin-Induced Thrombocytopenia
Heparin-induced thrombocytopenia (HIT) is a systemic hypercoagulable state that occurs in 1–4% of individuals treated with UFH. Surgical patients are at greatest risk. The reported incidence of HIT is lower in pediatric populations outside the critical care setting; it is relatively rare in pregnant women. The risk of HIT may be higher in individuals treated with UFH of bovine origin compared with porcine heparin and is lower in those treated exclusively with LMW heparin.
Morbidity and mortality in HIT are related to thrombotic events. Venous thrombosis occurs most commonly, but occlusion of peripheral or central arteries is not infrequent. If an indwelling catheter is present, the risk of thrombosis is increased in that extremity. Skin necrosis has been described, particularly in individuals treated with warfarin in the absence of a direct thrombin inhibitor, presumably due to acute depletion of the vitamin K–dependent anticoagulant protein C occurring in the presence of high levels of procoagulant proteins and an active hypercoagulable state.
The following points should be considered in all patients receiving heparin: Platelet counts should be performed frequently; thrombocytopenia appearing in a time frame consistent with an immune response to heparin should be considered suspicious for HIT; and any new thrombus occurring in a patient receiving heparin therapy should raise suspicion of HIT. Patients who develop HIT are treated by discontinuance of heparin and administration of the direct thrombin inhibitor argatroban.
Heparin is contraindicated in patients with HIT, hypersensitivity to the drug, active bleeding, hemophilia, significant thrombocytopenia, purpura, severe hypertension, intracranial hemorrhage, infective endocarditis, active tuberculosis, ulcerative lesions of the gastrointestinal tract, threatened abortion, visceral carcinoma, or advanced hepatic or renal disease. Heparin should be avoided in patients who have recently had surgery of the brain, spinal cord, or eye; and in patients who are undergoing lumbar puncture or regional anesthetic block. Despite the apparent lack of placental transfer, heparin should be used in pregnant women only when clearly indicated.
The indications for the use of heparin are described in the section on clinical pharmacology. A plasma concentration of heparin of 0.2–0.4 unit/mL (by protamine titration) or 0.3–0.7 unit/mL (anti-Xa units) is considered to be the therapeutic range for treatment of venous thromboembolic disease. This concentration generally corresponds to a PTT of 1.5–2.5 times baseline. However, the use of the PTT for heparin monitoring is problematic. There is no standardization scheme for the PTT as there is for the prothrombin time (PT) and its international normalized ratio (INR) in warfarin monitoring. The PTT in seconds for a given heparin concentration varies between different reagent/instrument systems. Thus, if the PTT is used for monitoring, the laboratory should determine the clotting time that corresponds to the therapeutic range by protamine titration or anti-Xa activity, as listed above.
In addition, some patients have a prolonged baseline PTT due to factor deficiency or inhibitors (which could increase bleeding risk) or lupus anticoagulant (which is not associated with bleeding risk but may be associated with thrombosis risk). Using the PTT to assess heparin effect in such patients is problematic. An alternative is to use anti-Xa activity to assess heparin concentration, a test now widely available on automated coagulation instruments. This approach measures heparin concentration; however, it does not provide the global assessment of intrinsic pathway integrity of the PTT.
The following strategy is recommended: prior to initiating anticoagulant therapy of any type, the integrity of the patient’s hemostatic system should be assessed by a careful history of prior bleeding events, as well as baseline PT and PTT. If there is a prolonged clotting time, the cause of this (deficiency or inhibitor) should be determined prior to initiating therapy, and treatment goals stratified to a risk-benefit assessment. In high-risk patients measuring both the PTT and anti-Xa activity may be useful. When intermittent heparin administration is used, the aPTT or anti-Xa activity should be measured 6 hours after the administered dose to maintain prolongation of the aPTT to 2–2.5 times that of the control value. However, LMW heparin therapy is the preferred option in this case, as no monitoring is required in most patients.
Continuous intravenous administration of heparin is accomplished via an infusion pump. After an initial bolus injection of 80–100 units/kg, a continuous infusion of about 15–22 units/kg per hour is required to maintain the anti-Xa activity in the range of 0.3–0.7 units/mL. Low-dose prophylaxis is achieved with subcutaneous administration of heparin, 5000 units every 8–12 hours. Because of the danger of hematoma formation at the injection site, heparin must never be administered intramuscularly.
Prophylactic enoxaparin is given subcutaneously in a dosage of 30 mg twice daily or 40 mg once daily. Full-dose enoxaparin therapy is 1 mg/kg subcutaneously every 12 hours. This corresponds to a therapeutic anti-factor Xa level of 0.5–1 unit/mL. Selected patients may be treated with enoxaparin 1.5 mg/kg once a day, with a target anti-Xa level of 1.5 units/mL. The prophylactic dosage of dalteparin is 5000 units subcutaneously once a day; therapeutic dosing is 200 units/kg once a day for venous disease or 120 units/kg every 12 hours for acute coronary syndrome. LMW heparin should be used with caution in patients with renal insufficiency or body weight greater than 150 kg. Measurement of the anti-Xa level is useful to guide dosing in these individuals.
The synthetic pentasaccharide molecule fondaparinux avidly binds antithrombin with high specific activity, resulting in efficient inactivation of factor Xa. Fondaparinux has a long half-life of 15 hours, allowing for once-daily dosing by subcutaneous administration. Fondaparinux is effective in the prevention and treatment of venous thromboembolism and does not appear to cross-react with pathologic HIT antibodies in most individuals.
Reversal of Heparin Action
Excessive anticoagulant action of heparin is treated by discontinuance of the drug. If bleeding occurs, administration of a specific antagonist such as protamine sulfate is indicated. Protamine is a highly basic, positively charged peptide that combines with negatively charged heparin as an ion pair to form a stable complex devoid of anticoagulant activity. For every 100 units of heparin remaining in the patient, 1 mg of protamine sulfate is given intravenously; the rate of infusion should not exceed 50 mg in any 10-minute period. Excess protamine must be avoided; it also has an anticoagulant effect. Neutralization of LMW heparin by protamine is incomplete. Limited experience suggests that 1 mg of protamine sulfate may be used to partially neutralize 1 mg of enoxaparin. Protamine will not reverse the activity of fondaparinux. Excess danaparoid can be removed by plasmapheresis.
WARFARIN & OTHER COUMARIN ANTICOAGULANTS
Chemistry & Pharmacokinetics
The clinical use of the coumarin anticoagulants began with the discovery of an anticoagulant substance formed in spoiled sweet clover silage, which caused hemorrhagic disease in cattle. At the behest of local farmers, a chemist at the University of Wisconsin identified the toxic agent as bishydroxycoumarin. Dicumarol, a synthesized derivative, and its congeners, most notably warfarin (Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, with “-arin” from coumarin added; Figure 34–5), were initially used as rodenticides. In the 1950s, warfarin (under the brand name Coumadin) was introduced as an antithrombotic agent in humans. Warfarin is one of the most commonly prescribed drugs.
Structural formulas of several oral anticoagulant drugs and of vitamin K. The carbon atom of warfarin shown at the asterisk is an asymmetric center.
Warfarin is generally administered as the sodium salt and has 100% oral bioavailability. Over 99% of racemic warfarin is bound to plasma albumin, which may contribute to its small volume of distribution (the albumin space), its long half-life in plasma (36 hours), and the lack of urinary excretion of unchanged drug. Warfarin used clinically is a racemic mixture composed of equal amounts of two enantiomorphs. The levorotatory S-warfarin is four times more potent than the dextrorotatory R-warfarin. This observation is useful in understanding the stereoselective nature of several drug interactions involving warfarin.
Coumarin anticoagulants block the γ-carboxylation of several glutamate residues in prothrombin and factors VII, IX, and X as well as the endogenous anticoagulant proteins C and S (Figure 34–2, Table 34–1). The blockade results in incomplete coagulation factor molecules that are biologically inactive. The protein carboxylation reaction is coupled to the oxidation of vitamin K. The vitamin must then be reduced to reactivate it. Warfarin prevents reductive metabolism of the inactive vitamin K epoxide back to its active hydroquinone form (Figure 34–6). Mutational change of the gene for the responsible enzyme, vitamin K epoxide reductase (VKORC1), can give rise to genetic resistance to warfarin in humans and rodents.
Vitamin K cycle–metabolic interconversions of vitamin K associated with the synthesis of vitamin K–dependent clotting factors. Vitamin K1 or K2 is activated by reduction to the hydroquinone form (KH2). Stepwise oxidation to vitamin K epoxide (KO) is coupled to prothrombin carboxylation by the enzyme carboxylase. The reactivation of vitamin K epoxide is the warfarin-sensitive step (warfarin). The R on the vitamin K molecule represents a 20-carbon phytyl side chain in vitamin K1 and a 30- to 65-carbon polyprenyl side chain in vitamin K2.
There is an 8- to 12-hour delay in the action of warfarin. Its anticoagulant effect results from a balance between partially inhibited synthesis and unaltered degradation of the four vitamin K–dependent clotting factors. The resulting inhibition of coagulation is dependent on their degradation half-lives in the circulation. These half-lives are 6, 24, 40, and 60 hours for factors VII, IX, X, and II, respectively. Importantly, protein C has a short half-life similar to factor VIIa. Thus the immediate effect of warfarin is to deplete the procoagulant factor VII and anticoagulant protein C, which can paradoxically create a transient hypercoagulable state due to residual activity of the longer half-life procoagulants in the face of protein C depletion (see below). For this reason in patients with active hypercoagulable states, such as acute DVT or PE, UFH or LMW heparin is always used to achieve immediate anticoagulation until adequate warfarin-induced depletion of the procoagulant clotting factors is achieved. The duration of this overlapping therapy is generally 5–7 days.
Warfarin crosses the placenta readily and can cause a hemorrhagic disorder in the fetus. Furthermore, fetal proteins with γ-carboxyglutamate residues found in bone and blood may be affected by warfarin; the drug can cause a serious birth defect characterized by abnormal bone formation. Thus, warfarin should never be administered during pregnancy. Cutaneous necrosis with reduced activity of protein C sometimes occurs during the first weeks of therapy in patients who have inherited deficiency of protein C. Rarely, the same process causes frank infarction of the breast, fatty tissues, intestine, and extremities. The pathologic lesion associated with the hemorrhagic infarction is venous thrombosis, consistent with a hypercoagulable state due to warfarin-induced depletion of protein C.
Treatment with warfarin should be initiated with standard doses of 5–10 mg. The initial adjustment of the prothrombin time takes about 1 week, which usually results in a maintenance dosage of 5–7 mg/d. The prothrombin time (PT) should be increased to a level representing a reduction of prothrombin activity to 25% of normal and maintained there for long-term therapy. When the activity is less than 20%, the warfarin dosage should be reduced or omitted until the activity rises above 20%. Inherited polymorphisms in 2CYP2C9 and VKORC1 have significant effects on warfarin dosing; however, algorithms incorporating genomic information to predict initial warfarin dosing were no better than standard clinical algorithms in two of three large randomized trials examining this issue (see Chapter 5).
The therapeutic range for oral anticoagulant therapy is defined in terms of an international normalized ratio (INR). The INR is the prothrombin time ratio (patient prothrombin time/mean of normal prothrombin time for lab)ISI, where the ISI exponent refers to the International Sensitivity Index and is dependent on the specific reagents and instruments used for the determination. The ISI serves to relate measured prothrombin times to a World Health Organization reference standard thromboplastin; thus the prothrombin times performed on different properly calibrated instruments with a variety of thromboplastin reagents should give the same INR results for a given sample. For most reagent and instrument combinations in current use, the ISI is close to 1, making the INR roughly the ratio of the patient prothrombin time to the mean normal prothrombin time. The recommended INR for prophylaxis and treatment of thrombotic disease is 2–3. Patients with some types of artificial heart valves (eg, tilting disk) or other medical conditions increasing thrombotic risk have a recommended range of 2.5–3.5. While a prolonged INR is widely used as an indication of integrity of the coagulation system in liver disease and other disorders, it has been validated only in patients in steady state on chronic warfarin therapy.
Occasionally patients exhibit warfarin resistance, defined as progression or recurrence of a thrombotic event while in the therapeutic range. These individuals may have their INR target raised (which is accompanied by an increase in bleeding risk) or be changed to an alternative form of anticoagulation (eg, daily injections of LMW heparin or one of the newer oral anticoagulants). Warfarin resistance is most commonly seen in patients with advanced cancers, typically of gastrointestinal origin (Trousseau’s syndrome). LMW heparin is superior to warfarin in preventing recurrent venous thromboembolism in patients with cancer.
The coumarin anticoagulants often interact with other drugs and with disease states. These interactions can be broadly divided into pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic effects (Table 34–2). Pharmacokinetic mechanisms for drug interaction with warfarin mainly involve cytochrome P450 CYP2C9 enzyme induction, enzyme inhibition, and reduced plasma protein binding. Pharmacodynamic mechanisms for interactions with warfarin are synergism (impaired hemostasis, reduced clotting factor synthesis, as in hepatic disease), competitive antagonism (vitamin K), and an altered physiologic control loop for vitamin K (hereditary resistance to oral anticoagulants).
TABLE 34–2Pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic drug and body interactions with oral anticoagulants. ||Download (.pdf) TABLE 34–2 Pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic drug and body interactions with oral anticoagulants.
The most serious interactions with warfarin are those that increase the anticoagulant effect and the risk of bleeding. The most dangerous of these interactions are the pharmacokinetic interactions with the mostly obsolete pyrazolones phenylbutazone and sulfinpyrazone. These drugs not only augment the hypoprothrombinemia but also inhibit platelet function and may induce peptic ulcer disease (see Chapter 36). The mechanisms for their hypoprothrombinemic interaction are a stereoselective inhibition of oxidative metabolic transformation of S-warfarin (the more potent isomer) and displacement of albumin-bound warfarin, increasing the free fraction. For this and other reasons, neither phenylbutazone nor sulfinpyrazone is in common use in the United States. Metronidazole, fluconazole, and trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole also stereoselectively inhibit the metabolic transformation of S-warfarin, whereas amiodarone, disulfiram, and cimetidine inhibit metabolism of both enantiomorphs of warfarin (see Chapter 4). Aspirin, hepatic disease, and hyperthyroidism augment warfarin’s effects—aspirin by its effect on platelet function and the latter two by increasing the turnover rate of clotting factors. The third-generation cephalosporins eliminate the bacteria in the intestinal tract that produce vitamin K and, like warfarin, also directly inhibit vitamin K epoxide reductase.
Barbiturates and rifampin cause a marked decrease of the anticoagulant effect by induction of the hepatic enzymes that transform racemic warfarin. Cholestyramine binds warfarin in the intestine and reduces its absorption and bioavailability.
Pharmacodynamic reductions of anticoagulant effect occur with increased vitamin K intake (increased synthesis of clotting factors), the diuretics chlorthalidone and spironolactone (clotting factor concentration), hereditary resistance (mutation of vitamin K reactivation cycle molecules), and hypothyroidism (decreased turnover rate of clotting factors).
Drugs with no significant effect on anticoagulant therapy include ethanol, phenothiazines, benzodiazepines, acetaminophen, opioids, indomethacin, and most antibiotics.
Reversal of Warfarin Action
Excessive anticoagulant effect and bleeding from warfarin can be reversed by stopping the drug and administering oral or parenteral vitamin K1 (phytonadione), fresh-frozen plasma, prothrombin complex concentrates, and recombinant factor VIIa (rFVIIa). A four-factor concentrate containing factors II, VII, IX, and X (Prothrombin Complex Concentrate, [Human]; Kcentra) (4F PCC) is available. The disappearance of excessive effect is not correlated with plasma warfarin concentrations but rather with reestablishment of normal activity of the clotting factors. A modest excess of anticoagulant effect without bleeding may require no more than cessation of the drug. The warfarin effect can be rapidly reversed in the setting of severe bleeding with the administration of prothrombin complex or rFVIIa coupled with intravenous vitamin K. It is important to note that due to the long half-life of warfarin, a single dose of vitamin K or rFVIIa may not be sufficient.
ORAL DIRECT FACTOR Xa INHIBITORS
Oral Xa inhibitors, including rivaroxaban, apixaban, and edoxaban represent a new class of oral anticoagulant drugs that require no monitoring. Along with oral direct thrombin inhibitors (discussed below) this new class of direct oral anticoagulant (DOAC) drugs is having a major impact on antithrombotic pharmacotherapy.
Rivaroxaban, apixaban, and edoxaban inhibit factor Xa, in the final common pathway of clotting (see Figure 34–2). These drugs are given as fixed doses and do not require monitoring. They have a rapid onset of action and shorter half-lives than warfarin.
Rivaroxaban has high oral bioavailability when taken with food. Following an oral dose, the peak plasma level is achieved within 2–4 hours; the drug is extensively protein-bound. It is a substrate for the cytochrome P450 system and the P-glycoprotein transporter. Drugs inhibiting both CYP3A4 and P-glycoprotein (eg, ketoconazole) result in increased rivaroxaban effect. One third of the drug is excreted unchanged in the urine and the remainder is metabolized and excreted in the urine and feces. The drug half-life is 5–9 hours in patients age 20–45 years and is increased in the elderly and in those with impaired renal or hepatic function.
Apixaban has an oral bioavailability of 50% and prolonged absorption, resulting in a half-life of 12 hours with repeat dosing. The drug is a substrate of the cytochrome P450 system and P-glycoprotein and is excreted in the urine and feces. As with rivaroxaban, drugs inhibiting both CYP3A4 and P-glycoprotein, as well as impairment of renal or hepatic function, result in increased drug effect.
Edoxaban is a once-daily Xa inhibitor with a 62% oral bioavailability. Peak drug concentrations occur 1–2 hours after dosage and are not affected by food. The drug half-life is 10–14 hours. Edoxaban does not induce CYP450 enzymes. No dose reduction is required with concurrent use of P-glycoprotein inhibitors. Edoxaban is primarily excreted unchanged in the urine.
Rivaroxaban is approved for prevention of embolic stroke in patients with atrial fibrillation without valvular heart disease, prevention of venous thromboembolism following hip or knee surgery, and treatment of venous thromboembolic disease (VTE). The prophylactic dosage is 10 mg orally per day for 35 days for hip replacement or 12 days for knee replacement. For treatment of DVT/PE the dosage is 15 mg twice daily for 3 weeks followed by 20 mg/d. Depending on clinical presentation and risk factors, patients with VTE are treated for 3–6 months; rivaroxaban is also approved for prolonged therapy in selected patients to reduce recurrence risk at the treatment dose. Apixaban is approved for prevention of stroke in nonvalvular atrial fibrillation, for prevention of VTE following hip or knee surgery, and for treatment and long-term prevention of VTE. The dosage for atrial fibrillation is 5 mg twice daily; the dose for VTE is 10 mg twice a day for the first week, followed by 5 mg twice a day. The prophylactic dose for prevention of VTE following hip or knee surgery or long-term prevention of VTE following initial therapy is 2.5 mg twice a day. The recommended duration of therapy in hip and knee replacement is the same as for rivaroxaban. Edoxaban is approved for prevention of stroke in nonvalvular atrial fibrillation, and to treat VTE following treatment with heparin or LMWH for 5–10 days. The dose for atrial fibrillation and VTE treatment is 60 mg once daily. For patients with creatinine clearance of 15–50 mL/min or those taking concomitant P-glycoprotein inhibitors, the dose is 30 mg once daily. Edoxaban is contraindicated in patients with atrial fibrillation and creatinine clearance >95 mL/min, due to the increased rate of ischemic stroke in this group compared with patients taking warfarin.
Assessment of and Reversal of Anti-Xa Drug Effect
Measurement of anti-Xa drug effect is not needed in most situations but can be accomplished by anti-Xa assays calibrated for the drug in question. Andexanet alfa is a factor Xa “decoy” molecule without procoagulant activity that competes for binding to anti-Xa drugs. In clinical trials involving apixaban and rivaroxaban, andexanet given by IV infusion resulted in rapid decrease in anti-Xa effect. Non-neutralizing antibodies occurred in 17% of those treated; the effect of these antibodies with drug re-exposure is not known. Based on the available data, andexanet is likely to be the first antidote approved for use in patients treated with anti-Xa agents who require rapid reversal for surgery or uncontrolled bleeding.
DIRECT THROMBIN INHIBITORS
The direct thrombin inhibitors (DTIs) exert their anticoagulant effect by directly binding to the active site of thrombin, thereby inhibiting thrombin’s downstream effects. This is in contrast to indirect thrombin inhibitors such as heparin and LMW heparin (see above), which act through antithrombin. Hirudin and bivalirudin are large, bivalent DTIs that bind at the catalytic or active site of thrombin as well as at a substrate recognition site. Argatroban and melagatran are small molecules that bind only at the thrombin active site.
PARENTERAL DIRECT THROMBIN INHIBITORS
Leeches have been used for bloodletting since the age of Hippocrates. More recently, surgeons have used medicinal leeches (Hirudo medicinalis) to prevent thrombosis in the fine vessels of reattached digits. Hirudin is a specific, irreversible thrombin inhibitor from leech saliva that for a time was available in recombinant form as lepirudin. Its action is independent of antithrombin, which means it can reach and inactivate fibrin-bound thrombin in thrombi. Lepirudin has little effect on platelets or the bleeding time. Like heparin, it must be administered parenterally and is monitored by aPTT. Lepirudin was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in patients with thrombosis related to heparin-induced thrombocytopenia (HIT). Lepirudin is excreted by the kidney and should be used with great caution in patients with renal insufficiency as no antidote exists. Up to 40% of patients who receive long-term infusions develop an antibody directed against the thrombin-lepirudin complex. These antigen-antibody complexes are not cleared by the kidney and may result in an enhanced anticoagulant effect. Some patients re-exposed to the drug developed life-threatening anaphylactic reactions. Lepirudin production was discontinued by the manufacturer in 2012.
Bivalirudin, another bivalent inhibitor of thrombin, is administered intravenously, with a rapid onset and offset of action. The drug has a short half-life with clearance that is 20% renal and the remainder metabolic. Bivalirudin also inhibits platelet activation and has been FDA-approved for use in percutaneous coronary angioplasty.
Argatroban is a small molecule thrombin inhibitor that is FDA-approved for use in patients with HIT with or without thrombosis and coronary angioplasty in patients with HIT. It, too, has a short half-life, is given by continuous intravenous infusion, and is monitored by aPTT. Its clearance is not affected by renal disease but is dependent on liver function; dose reduction is required in patients with liver disease. Patients on argatroban will demonstrate elevated INRs, rendering the transition to warfarin difficult (ie, the INR will reflect contributions from both warfarin and argatroban). (INR is discussed in detail in the section on warfarin administration.) A nomogram is supplied by the manufacturer to assist in this transition.
ORAL DIRECT THROMBIN INHIBITOR
Advantages of oral direct thrombin inhibition include predictable pharmacokinetics and bioavailability, which allow for fixed dosing and predictable anticoagulant response and make routine coagulation monitoring unnecessary. Similar to the direct oral anti-Xa drugs described above, the rapid onset and offset of action of these agents allow for immediate anticoagulation.
Dabigatran etexilate mesylate is the only oral direct thrombin inhibitor approved by the FDA. Dabigatran is approved for reduction in risk of stroke and systemic embolism with nonvalvular atrial fibrillation, treatment of VTE following 5–7 days of initial heparin or LMWH therapy, reduction of the risk of recurrent VTE, and VTE prophylaxis following hip or knee replacement surgery.
Dabigatran and its metabolites are direct thrombin inhibitors. Following oral administration, dabigatran etexilate mesylate is converted to dabigatran. The oral bioavailability is 3–7% in normal volunteers. The drug is a substrate for the P-glycoprotein efflux pump; P-glycoprotein inhibitors such as ketoconazole should be avoided in patients with impaired renal function. The half-life of the drug in normal volunteers is 12–17 hours. Renal impairment results in prolonged drug clearance.
For prevention of stroke and systemic embolism in nonvalvular atrial fibrillation, the dosage is 150 mg twice daily for patients with creatinine clearance greater than 30 mL/min. For decreased creatinine clearance of 15–30 mL/min, the dosage is 75 mg twice daily. No monitoring is required.
Assessment of and Reversal of Antithrombin Drug Effect
As with any anticoagulant drug, the primary toxicity of dabigatran is bleeding. Dabigatran will prolong the PTT, thrombin time, and ecarin clotting time, which can be used to estimate drug effect if necessary. The ecarin clotting time [ECT] is another clotting test based on the use of a protein isolated from viper venom. Idarucizumab is a humanized monoclonal antibody Fab fragment that binds to dabigatran and reverses the anticoagulant effect. The drug is approved for use in situations requiring emergent surgery or for life-threatening bleeding. The recommended dose is 5 g given intravenously. If bleeding re-occurs a second dose may be given. The drug is primarily excreted by the kidneys. The half-life in patients with normal renal function is approximately 1 hour.
Summary of the Direct Oral Anticoagulant Drugs
The direct oral anticoagulant drugs have consistently shown equivalent antithrombotic efficacy and lower bleeding rates when compared with traditional warfarin therapy. In addition, these drugs offer the advantages of rapid therapeutic effect, no monitoring requirement, and fewer drug interactions in comparison with warfarin, which has a narrow therapeutic window, is affected by diet and many drugs, and requires monitoring for dosage optimization. However, the short half-life of the newer anticoagulants has the important consequence that patient noncompliance will quickly lead to loss of anticoagulant effect and risk of thromboembolism. Given the convenience of once- or twice-daily oral dosing, lack of a monitoring requirement, and fewer drug and dietary interactions documented thus far, the new direct oral anticoagulants represent a significant advance in the prevention and therapy of thrombotic disease.