Tissue plasminogen activator (t-PA) has been the standard IV thrombolytic used in acute ischemic stroke treatment since its US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval in 1995. Trials have established this drug’s efficacy in the treatment of acute ischemic stroke and the appropriate patient population for therapy.1-3 Published guidelines and experiences have made clear that a written protocol with extensive personnel training is important to deliver this care properly.4
Tenecteplase has been available for use in the treatment of acute myocardial infarction (MI) and studied in acute ischemic strokes since 2000. Recent large multicenter trials have suggested tenecteplase may work better than t-PA in the recanalization of large vessel occlusions (LVOs) and have provided guidance on proper dosing in acute ischemic stroke victims.5-8 Compared with t-PA, tenecteplase has a longer half-life, is more fibrin specific (causing less coagulopathy), and is more resistant to endogenous plasminogen activator inhibitor.9,10 Using tenecteplase for acute ischemic stroke is simpler as a single dose bolus rather than a bolus followed by a 1-hour infusion with t-PA. Immediate mechanical thrombectomy for LVO is less complicated without the 1-hour t-PA infusion.5,6 Tenecteplase use also allows for nonthrombectomy hospitals to accelerate transfer times for patients who need thrombectomy following thrombolysis by eliminating the need for critical care nurse–staffed ambulances for interfacility transfer.11 Tenecteplase also is cheaper: Tenecteplase costs $3748 per vial, whereas t-PA costs $5800 per vial equating to roughly a $2000 savings per patient.12,13 Finally, the pharmacy formulary is simplified by using a single thrombolytic agent for both cardiac and neurologic emergencies.
Tenecteplase does have some drawbacks to consider. Currently, tenecteplase is not approved by the FDA for the indication of acute ischemic stroke, though the drug is endorsed by the American Heart Association stroke guidelines of 2019 as an alternative to t-PA.14 There is no stroke-specific preparation of the drug, leading to potential dosing errors. Therefore, a systematic process to safely transition from t-PA to tenecteplase for acute ischemic stroke was undertaken at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC) in Bethesda, Maryland. Here, we report the process required in making a complex switch in thrombolytic medication along with the potential benefits of making this transition.
The process to implement tenecteplase required extensive training and education for staff physicians, nurses, pharmacists, radiologists, trainees, and the rapid response team. Our institution administered IV thrombolytic drugs up to 25 times annually to acute ischemic stroke victims, meaning we had to train personnel extensively and repeatedly.
In preparation for the transition to tenecteplase, hospital leadership gathered staff for multidisciplinary administrative meetings that included neurology, emergency medicine, intensive care, pharmacy, radiology, and nursing departments. The purpose of these meetings was to establish a standard operating procedure (SOP) to ensure a safe transition. This process began in May 2020 and involved regular meetings to draft and revise our SOP. Additionally, several leadership and training sessions were held over a 6-month period. Stroke boxes were developed that contained the required evaluation tools, consent forms, medications (tenecteplase and treatments for known complications), dosing cards, and instructions. Final approval of the updated acute ischemic stroke hospital policy was obtained in November 2020 and signed by the above departments.