NOACs outpace warfarin for afib anticoagulation



The NOAC revolution has happened.

New oral anticoagulants (NOACs) now claim the majority of the oral anticoagulant market in patients with new atrial fibrillation, wresting the advantage from warfarin in the U.S. and globally. This is the promise NOACs held even while still in development, the potential to whittle warfarin use down to a shadow of what it was. Despite a sputtering reception when the first NOAC, dabigatran (Pradaxa), came onto the U.S. market in late 2010, the four NOACs (also apixaban [Eliquis], edoxaban [Savaysa], and rivaroxaban [Xarelto]) now available in the United States and elsewhere gradually gained traction and today they collectively form the most widely used oral anticoagulant option for patients newly diagnosed with atrial fibrillation.

Dr. Kasper Gadsboll Mitchel L. Zoler/Frontline Medical News

Dr. Kasper Gadsboll

Data reported in August at the annual congress of the European Society of Cardiology showed that in Denmark during the first half of 2015, NOACs accounted for 73% of oral anticoagulant prescriptions for patients with newly diagnosed atrial fibrillation, Kasper Gadsboll, MD, reported. He and his associates studied NOAC and warfarin use in a total of 108,410 atrial fibrillation patients newly diagnosed starting in 2005. Through 2010, warfarin was the only option, but starting in early 2011 when the first NOAC became available in Denmark, use of the class rose sharply with a corresponding plummet in warfarin prescriptions. Not only did the NOACs largely supplant warfarin during 2011-2015, but they also powered an overall rise in the percentage of atrial fibrillation patients treated with an oral anticoagulant, boosting the rate by a relative 75% between the end of 2009 and mid-2015.

“People were reluctant to start an oral anticoagulant because they feared bleeding. Now with NOACs they are not as fearful,” said Dr. Gadsboll, a cardiology researcher at Gentofte Hospital in Hellerup, Denmark. He also noted that in Denmark the national health system pays for prescribed drugs, so the increased direct cost for NOAC treatment in place of warfarin is covered by the Danish government.

Dr. Stuart J. Connolly

Dr. Stuart J. Connolly

“NOAC uptake is gathering steam,” commented Stuart J. Connolly, MD, an electrophysiologist and professor of medicine at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. “When the government pays for it, people prescribe it more, but increased NOAC use is happening everywhere,” said Dr. Connolly, who led major trials that assessed dabigatran and apixaban in atrial fibrillation patients. “I’ve seen Canadian data that show warfarin use is falling and NOAC use is increasing. People are more willing to prescribe NOACs because they are safer,” he said in an interview.

The most current U.S. data I found came from the IMS Health National Disease and Therapeutic Index in 2014, based on a survey of a representative sample of about 4,800 U.S. office-based physicians. The results showed that the NOAC share of oral anticoagulant use in patients who had office visits for atrial fibrillation jumped from 6% of patients in early 2011 to roughly half of all atrial fibrillation patients, 48%, during 2014 (Am J Med. 2015 Dec;128[12]:1300-5). That trajectory makes it likely that by now NOACs have a clear lead.

It’s a similar story in several European countries, such as in Belgium where NOACs now account for about 70% of new prescriptions for atrial fibrillation patients, commented Freek W.A. Verheugt, MD. In the Netherlands, however, NOACs have not taken off, in large part because a popular and entrenched thrombosis clinic system exists that employs thousands of Dutch workers, thereby making choice of an anticoagulant drug a social and political question as well as a medical one, he said. “Warfarin is still indicated for patients with an artificial heart valve or poor kidney function,” noted Dr. Verheugt, professor of cardiology at the University of Nijmegen in the Netherlands, “but a majority of atrial fibrillation patients will eventually change to a NOAC. Even when treatment with warfarin has a good time-in-therapeutic-range, NOACs are still better. They are so much safer.”

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