Dabigatran (Pradaxa) for stroke prevention in patients with non-valvular atrial fibrillation
Published in NPS RADAR
Date published: About this date
Key points | Evidence snapshot | PBS listing | What is it? | Who is it for? | Where does it fit? | How does it compare? | Safety issues | Dosing issues | Information for patients | References
Similar rate of major bleeding to warfarin
- Dabigatran is an oral anticoagulant
It is a direct thrombin inhibitor.
- Dose titration and monitoring of prothrombin time are not required
Dabigatran is formulated as a capsule (150 mg or 110 mg) taken twice daily.
- Dabigatran 150 mg twice daily reduced the absolute risk of stroke or systemic embolism by 0.6% per year compared with warfarin
The incidence of stroke or systemic embolism did not differ between dabigatran 110 mg twice daily and warfarin.
- Important differences in effectiveness were related to the quality of INR control in clinical trial patients
Consistently therapeutic warfarin may be as effective as dabigatran.
- The overall rate of major bleeding did not differ between dabigatran 150 mg twice daily and warfarin
Dabigatran 150 mg twice daily increased the risk of gastrointestinal bleeding, but reduced the risk of intracranial bleeding.
- There is no antidote to dabigatran-induced bleeding
As with all anticoagulants, tell patients to seek prompt medical attention for unexplained bruising, blood in the urine or black stools.
- Dabigatran is contraindicated in severe hepatic and renal impairment (creatinine clearance ≤ 30 mL/min)
Consider dabigatran 110 mg twice daily in patients with moderate renal impairment (creatinine clearance 30–50 mL/min).
What is known about this drug
Dabigatran 150 mg twice daily reduced the absolute risk of stroke or systemic embolism by 0.6% per year compared with warfarin (relative risk [RR] 0.65, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.52 to 0.81).
Major bleeding rates were similar for dabigatran 150 mg twice daily and warfarin (3.32% vs 3.57%, respectively; RR 0.93, 95% CI 0.81 to 1.07).
Areas of uncertainty
The safety and efficacy of dabigatran has not been established in patients at high risk of bleeding (Box 1).
Safety data for dabigatran are limited to 2 years of follow-up.
What does NPS say?
Consider individual risks and potential benefits when choosing an oral anticoagulant. Patients with an INR consistently in the therapeutic range may not benefit from switching to dabigatran therapy.
Dabigatran may be an option for:
Dabigatran is currently only PBS-listed for short-term use after hip or knee replacement surgery to prevent venous thromboembolism (see Who is it for?). In March 2011, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC) gave a positive recommendation for the PBS listing of dabigatran to prevent stroke or systemic embolism in moderate-to-high risk patients with non-valvular atrial fibrillation who meet certain criteria (see the Public Summary Document).1
What is it?
Dabigatran is a direct thrombin (factor IIa) inhibitor oral anticoagulant. It is formulated as dabigatran etexilate, a prodrug converted to dabigatran after administration.
For information about dabigatran's pharmacokinetic profile, read the Australian Prescriber article: New oral anticoagulant drugs — mechanisms of action.
Who is it for?
Dabigatran is approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) for preventing stroke and systemic embolism in patients with non-valvular atrial fibrillation and at least one additional risk factor for stroke.2 Both the indication and patient population are consistent with those evaluated in the main clinical trial (see How does it compare?).
In April 2010, dabigatran was PBS listed for the prevention of venous thromboembolism after orthopaedic surgery. Dabigatran (150 mg once daily or 220 mg once daily) is taken for 10 days after knee replacement surgery and for 28–35 days after hip replacement surgery. For further information refer to the NPS RADAR review Dabigatran (Pradaxa) for preventing venous thromboembolism after hip or knee replacement surgery.
Review current anticoagulant control when considering dabigatran for patients with atrial fibrillation
Warfarin-treated patients with unstable or poor INR control (for reasons other than non-adherence) may benefit if switched to dabigatran. Factors that contribute to the suboptimal use of warfarin, including drug interactions and difficulty monitoring INR, may also inform the decision to switch therapy.
Patients with consistently therapeutic INRs while taking warfarin, who are at low risk of stroke, may be less likely to benefit from a switch to dabigatran. Some of these patients may also find frequent anticoagulant monitoring reassuring.
Consider dabigatran for patients who are unwilling to take warfarin because of drug interactions, dietary restrictions or the need for regular monitoring.
Dabigatran may be unsuitable for patients with serious comorbidities
There are likely to be important differences between the dabigatran clinical trial population and patients treated in the community. For example, severe renal impairment (CrCl ≤ 30 mL/min) was among the exclusion criteria3, and warfarin should therefore continue to be the preferred drug for this patient population.
Patients with conditions associated with an increased risk of bleeding (Box 1) or active liver disease were also ineligible and should not receive dabigatran.
Box 1: Bleeding risk factors that excluded people from the RE-LY trial3
- Major surgery in the previous month
- Planned surgery or intervention in the next 3 months
- History of intracranial, intraocular, spinal, retroperitoneal or atraumatic intra-articular bleeding
- Gastrointestinal haemorrhage within the past year
- Symptomatic or endoscopically documented gastroduodenal ulcer disease in the previous 30 days
- Haemorrhagic disorder or bleeding diathesis
- Need for anticoagulant treatment of disorders other than atrial fibrillation
- Fibrinolytic agents within 48 hours of study entry
- Uncontrolled hypertension (systolic blood pressure > 180 mmHg and/or diastolic blood pressure > 100 mmHg)
- Recent malignancy or radiation therapy (≤ 6 months) and not expected to survive for 3 years
Avoid dabigatran in patients with a history of poor medication adherence
Clinical trial investigators excluded patients thought unlikely to adhere to dosing instructions.3 If patient adherence is an issue in clinical practice, the longer terminal half-life of warfarin is likely to provide a more consistent anticoagulant effect. Furthermore, prothrombin time cannot be used to guide management or monitor adherence in dabigatran-treated patients.
Where does it fit?
The absolute risk of stroke and risk of major bleeding guide the choice of antithrombotic therapy in patients with non-valvular atrial fibrillation (see NPS News 62: Using antithrombotics wisely in stroke prevention).
Patients at moderate to high risk of stroke are currently prescribed warfarin. It reduces the relative risk of stroke in non-valvular atrial fibrillation by 64% compared with placebo or no treatment.4
Fixed-dose dabigatran is an alternative to warfarin for the primary and secondary prevention of stroke.
Before prescribing dabigatran consider that:
- patients with an INR consistently in the therapeutic range may not benefit from switching therapy (see Who is it for?)
- safety has not been established in patients at high risk of bleeding (Box 1)
- renal impairment increases bleeding risk.
How does it compare?
Dabigatran has been compared with warfarin in patients with non-valvular atrial fibrillation and at least one additional risk factor for stroke.5 The RE-LY study randomised more than 18,000 patients at risk of stroke (mean CHADS2* score 2.1) to dabigatran 150 mg twice daily, dabigatran 110 mg twice daily or dose-adjusted warfarin.3,5 The dabigatran dose was blinded whereas warfarin was administered in an open-label fashion. To minimise bias, outcomes were adjudicated by investigators blinded to treatment assignment. The mean age of study participants was 71 years and the median follow-up period was 2 years. Half the patients enrolled in the RE-LY study were naïve to oral anticoagulants.
*A measure of the risk of stroke in which congestive heart failure, hypertension, age ≥ 75 years, and diabetes mellitus are each assigned 1 point and previous stroke or transient ischaemic attack is assigned 2 points; the score is calculated by summing all the points for a given patient.
Dabigatran reduces stroke and systemic embolism
Dabigatran 150 mg twice daily reduced risk more than dabigatran 110 mg twice daily.5,6 The higher dabigatran dose reduced the annual absolute risk of stroke or systemic embolism by 0.6% compared with warfarin (RR 0.65, 95% CI 0.52 to 0.81) and by 0.43% compared with dabigatran 110 mg twice daily (Table 1). Both haemorrhagic and ischaemic stroke occurred less often in the dabigatran 150 mg twice-daily group than in the warfarin group.
Dabigatran 110 mg twice daily was non-inferior to warfarin. That is, a similar number of patients in each treatment group had a stroke or systemic embolism. Compared with warfarin, dabigatran significantly reduced the incidence of haemorrhagic, but not ischaemic, stroke.
Table 1. Annual incidence of study outcomes in the RE-LY trial5,6
|Event||Warfarin||Dabigatran 150 mg>||Dabigatran 110 mg|
|%/year||%/year||Absolute risk reduction versus warfarin (%/year)||%/year||Absolute risk reduction versus warfarin (%/year)|
Stroke or systemic embolism*
Ischaemic or unspecified stroke
* Primary study outcome
† Includes haemorrhagic, ischaemic or unspecified, non-disabling and disabling or fatal stroke
‡ p < 0.05. All values are for superiority over warfarin
Warfarin-treated patients with an INR consistently in the therapeutic range may not benefit from switching to dabigatran
Figure 1: Rate of composite cardiovascular events relative to mean time in therapeutic range7
The INR in the warfarin group was within the therapeutic range (2.0–3.0) for 64% of the RE-LY study period, but the quality of INR control varied between countries and study sites.5,7
Study centres in Australia reported a mean time in therapeutic range of 74 %; a figure within the upper quartile (top 25%) of participating study sites.7 Post-hoc analyses found that dabigatran 150 mg twice daily reduced the rate of composite cardiovascular events† at centres where INR control was poor (bottom 25%), but not at sites where INR control was better (Figure 1). Patients with an INR consistently in the therapeutic range may therefore be less likely to experience a net clinical benefit† by switching to dabigatran therapy.
† The RE-LY study specified a composite net clinical benefit outcome of stroke, systemic embolism, pulmonary embolism, myocardial infarction, death and major bleeding.
Serious bleeding is the greatest safety concern for dabigatran-treated patients and clinicians. However, unlike for warfarin, there is currently no specific antidote to dabigatran's effect.
Rates of discontinuation were significantly higher in dabigatran- than warfarin-treated patients in the RE-LY study (21% vs 17%, respectively); gastrointestinal (GI) disorders were the most common adverse effect leading to discontinuation of dabigatran (see Gastrointestinal disorders may affect adherence).5,8
Report suspected adverse reactions to the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) online or by using the 'Blue Card' distributed three times a year with Australian Prescriber. For information about reporting adverse reactions, see the TGA website.
Major bleeding rate did not differ between dabigatran 150 mg twice daily and warfarin
Major bleeding rates were similar for dabigatran 150 mg twice daily and warfarin (RR 0.93, 95% CI 0.81 to 1.07) in the total study population (Table 2).5,6 However, the incidence of major bleeding was lower with dabigatran 110 mg twice daily than with warfarin (0.7% per year; RR 0.8, 95% CI 0.7 to 0.93).
Warfarin was associated with a higher rate of life-threatening bleeds than either dabigatran dose.
Table 2. Annual incidence of major and life-threatening bleeding in the RE-LY trial5,6
Dabigatran 150 mg
Dabigatran 110 mg
Any major bleeding*
* Defined as a reduction in the haemoglobin level of at least 20 g/L, transfusion of at least two units of blood, or symptomatic bleeding in a critical area or organ
† A subcategory of major bleeding consisting of fatal bleeding, symptomatic intracranial bleeding, bleeding with a decrease in the haemoglobin level of at least 50 g/L, or bleeding requiring transfusion of at least four units of blood or inotropic agents or necessitating surgery
‡ p < 0.05. All values are for superiority over warfarin
Poor INR control was associated with increased bleeding risk
Figure 2: Rate of major bleeding relative to
mean time in therapeutic range7
Post-hoc analyses of RE-LY data suggest that there are differences in bleeding risk between dabigatran and warfarin when the quality of INR control is poor.7
At study centres where INR control was poor, dabigatran 150 mg twice daily reduced the incidence of major bleeding compared with warfarin (Figure 2). However, there was no significant difference in risk with better INR control (mean time in therapeutic range ≥ 57.1%).
More dabigatran-treated patients had a gastrointestinal bleed
Compared with warfarin, the rate of major GI bleeding (Table 3) was significantly higher in patients treated with dabigatran 150 mg twice daily (RR 1.47; 95% CI 1.17 to 1.85).2 The risk increased with age and was greatest in patients aged ≥ 75 years (hazard ratio [HR] 1.79, 95% CI 1.32 to 2.42).8
Dabigatran 150 mg twice daily caused significantly more major GI bleeds than warfarin at study centres where INR control was above the median (mean time in therapeutic range > 65.5%).7
Table 3. Annual incidence of GI bleeding in the RE-LY trial2
|Dabigatran 150 mg||Dabigatran 110 mg|
Major GI bleeding*
Any GI bleeding
* A subset of major bleeding
† Significantly greater incidence of gastrointestinal bleeding compared with warfarin (p < 0.05)
Intracranial bleeding was uncommon, but higher with warfarin
Dabigatran 150 mg twice daily reduced the absolute risk of intracranial bleeding compared with warfarin (0.32 % vs 0.76 %, respectively; RR 0.41, 95% CI 0.28 to 0.6).
Gastrointestinal disorders may affect adherence
Gastrointestinal adverse events, including dyspepsia and gastritis-like symptoms, were common in dabigatran-treated patients (35% vs 24% in the warfarin group).2 In the RE-LY study, gastrointestinal disorders frequently led to drug discontinuation (7%, 6.5% and 3.9% in the dabigatran 150 mg twice-daily, dabigatran 110 mg twice-daily and warfarin groups, respectively).8
There is no antidote to dabigatran-induced bleeding
Stopping dabigatran may be sufficient to manage minor bleeding in patients with normal renal function because dabigatran binds reversibly to thrombin and has a relatively short mean terminal half-life (12–14 hours).2,9 The Pradaxa (dabigatran) product information suggests supportive strategies, including transfusion of fresh whole blood or fresh frozen plasma, for severe bleeding.2
Take care combining dabigatran with antiplatelet drugs or NSAIDs
Combining dabigatran with other anticoagulants or antiplatelet agents, including clopidogrel, is not recommended.2 Seek expert advice for patients with an indication for ongoing antiplatelet therapy.
Patients in the RE-LY study were permitted to take concomitant aspirin (< 100 mg/day) and/or clopidogrel.5 Each drug, or the combination thereof, contributed to an increase in the annual rate of major bleeding events.2,8
NSAIDs increased the relative risk of major bleeding by up to 50% when given in conjunction with dabigatran or warfarin.2
Dabigatran has a different drug interaction profile to that of warfarin
Use dabigatran cautiously in patients taking amiodarone, HIV-protease inhibitors or verapamil. These and other inhibitors of P-glycoprotein can increase dabigatran plasma levels and, therefore, the risk of bleeding.
Starting dabigatran and verapamil simultaneously is contraindicated.2 Verapamil can be added to dabigatran therapy, but dabigatran must be given 2 hours before verapamil‡ to avoid interaction. Consider other treatment options for patients unlikely to be able to comply with these dosing instructions.
The strong P-glycoprotein inhibitors cyclosporin, tacrolimus and itraconazole are not recommended in patients taking dabigatran; systemic ketoconazole is contraindicated.2
‡ For the first 3 days of verapamil therapy.2
An increased risk of myocardial infarction cannot be excluded
Myocardial infarction occurred at a numerically, but not statistically significantly, greater rate in dabigatran- than warfarin-treated patients (annual event rate in the RE-LY study: dabigatran 150 mg twice daily: 0.81%; dabigatran 110 mg twice daily 0.82%; warfarin 0.64%).5,6 The imbalance did not appear to be related to dabigatran dose.5,10
Avoid dabigatran in patients with hepatic impairment
Dabigatran should not be used by patients with liver disease or severe hepatic impairment expected to impact on survival.2 Active liver disease, elevated liver enzyme levels at baseline (more than twice the upper limit of normal) or after previous exposure to ximelagatran§ were exclusion criteria in the RE-LY study.3,5
The Pradaxa product information recommends that each patient has a liver function test before beginning treatment with dabigatran.2
Dabigatran caused similar rates of elevated liver enzyme levels to those seen with warfarin in the RE-LY study.5
§ A direct thrombin inhibitor voluntarily withdrawn from the market after reports of severe liver damage.11,12
The recommended dose of dabigatran is 150 mg twice daily, taken with or without food. The capsule should be swallowed whole with water. Breaking, chewing or emptying the contents increases the dose absorbed and the risk of bleeding.2
Reduce the dose to 110 mg twice daily for patients aged ≥ 75 years. Consider prescribing the lower dose for patients with moderate renal impairment (CrCl 30–50mL/min) or those at higher risk of major bleeding.
Dabigatran is contraindicated in patients:¦
- with severe renal impairment (CrCl < 30 mL/min)
- predisposed to bleeding
- with conditions associated with an increased risk of bleeding (Box 1)
- with GI haemorrhage within the last year
- with liver disease or hepatic impairment expected to impact on survival.
¦ This list is not exhaustive. Review the product information for additional contraindications and further information regarding those listed above.
Switching patients from warfarin to dabigatran
Stop warfarin and wait until the patient's INR is < 2.0 before starting dabigatran.2
Switching patients from dabigatran to warfarin
Use CrCl to determine when warfarin should be started. For patients with CrCl:
- > 50 mL/min, start warfarin 3 days before stopping dabigatran
- 31–50 mL/min, start warfarin two days before stopping dabigatran.
Discontinue dabigatran before surgery
Dabigatran should be stopped at least 1 day (CrCl ≥ 50mL/min) or 3 days (CrCl < 50mL/min) before elective surgery or an invasive procedure.2,13
Discontinue dabigatran 2–4 days before surgery if complete haemostasis is required.
Store dabigatran in its original packaging
Dabigatran capsules should be dispensed and stored in the manufacturer's original packaging.14,15 Repackaging dabigatran capsules increases the risk of exposure to moisture or humidity, causing product breakdown and loss of potency.
Information for patients
Patients and their carers should clearly understand the risks and potential benefits of taking an anticoagulant to prevent stroke. Refer to NPS News 62: Using antithrombotics wisely in stroke prevention for a discussion of effective risk communication.
Advise patients and carers:14–16
- to take one dabigatran capsule at about the same time each morning and one dabigatran capsule at about the same time each evening. Swallow the capsule whole with water
- that a missed dabigatran dose can be taken up to 6 hours before the next scheduled dose. After this time, the missed dose should be omitted – do not take a double dose to make up for it
- to consult a doctor if they have any prolonged or excessive bleeding or signs of internal bleeding, such as unexplained bruising, blood in the urine or black stools
- to consult a doctor before using non-prescription medicines containing aspirin or NSAIDs. Paracetamol can be used for minor ailments
- that dyspepsia is common; taking dabigatran capsules with food may help
- to tell their health professional at each consultation that they are taking dabigatran
- to keep dabigatran capsules in a cool, dry place. Dabigatran should be stored in the manufacturer's original packaging to protect the capsules from moisture.
Discuss the Pradaxa consumer medicine information (CMI) leaflet with the patient.
An NPS Medicine Update article on dabigatran for preventing stroke is available for consumers. Medicine Update helps consumers to ask the right questions about new medicines, and helps them compare the potential benefits and harms of a new medicine with those of other medicines.
- Pharmaceutical Benefits Branch. Dabigatran etexilate, capsules, 110 mg and 150 mg (as mesilate), Pradaxa® - March 2011 Canberra: Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing, 2011. http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/pbac-psd-dabigatran-march11 (accessed 6 July 2011).
- Boehringer-Ingelheim Pty Ltd. Pradaxa product information. 29 April 2011.
- Ezekowitz MD, Connolly S, Parekh A, et al. Rationale and design of RE-LY: randomized evaluation of long-term anticoagulant therapy, warfarin, compared with dabigatran. Am Heart J 2009;157:805–10, 10 e1-2. [PubMed]
- Hart RG, Pearce LA, Aguilar MI. Meta-analysis: antithrombotic therapy to prevent stroke in patients who have nonvalvular atrial fibrillation. Ann Intern Med 2007;146:857–67. [PubMed]
- Connolly SJ, Ezekowitz MD, Yusuf S, et al. Dabigatran versus warfarin in patients with atrial fibrillation. N Engl J Med 2009;361:1139–51. [PubMed]
- Connolly SJ, Ezekowitz MD, Yusuf S, et al. Newly identified events in the RE-LY trial. N Engl J Med 2010;363:1875–6. [PubMed]
- Wallentin L, Yusuf S, Ezekowitz MD, et al. Efficacy and safety of dabigatran compared with warfarin at different levels of international normalised ratio control for stroke prevention in atrial fibrillation: an analysis of the RE-LY trial. Lancet 2010;376:975–83. [PubMed]
- US Food and Drug Agency (FDA). Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER): Medical review of dabigatran; application no. 022-512. 2010. http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cder/drugsatfda/index.cfm?fuseaction=Search.Label_ApprovalHistory#apphist (accessed 28 April 2011).
- van Ryn J, Stangier J, Haertter S, et al. Dabigatran etexilate—a novel, reversible, oral direct thrombin inhibitor: interpretation of coagulation assays and reversal of anticoagulant activity. Thromb Haemost 2010;103:1116–27. [PubMed]
- US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Division of Cardiovascular and Renal products: Addendum to Clinical Review for NDA 22-512; Risk of myocardial infarction 2010. http://www.fda.gov/downloads/AdvisoryCommittees/CommitteesMeetingMaterials/Drugs/CardiovascularandRenalDrugsAdvisoryCommittee/UCM226012.pdf (accessed 26 April 2011).
- Agnelli G, Eriksson BI, Cohen AT, et al. Safety assessment of new antithrombotic agents: lessons from the EXTEND study on ximelagatran. Thrombosis research 2009;123:488–97. [PubMed]
- European Medicines Agency. Press release: AstraZeneca withdraws its application for Ximelagatran 36-mg film-coated tablets. 2006. http://www.ema.europa.eu/docs/en_GB/document_library/Press_release/2010/02/WC500074073.pdf (accessed 3 May 2011).
- Rossi S, ed. Australian Medicines Handbook 2011. Adelaide: Australian Medicines Handbook Pty Ltd.
- US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). FDA Drug Safety Communication: Special storage and handling requirements must be followed for Pradaxa (dabigatran etexilate mesylate) capsules. 2011. http://www.fda.gov/Drugs/DrugSafety/ucm199082.htm (accessed 27 April 2011).
- Boehringer-Ingelheim Pty Ltd. Pradaxa consumer medicine information. 17 February 2011.
- US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER): Medication Guide: Pradaxa (dabigatran etexilate mesylate) capsules. 2011. http://www.fda.gov/downloads/Drugs/DrugSafety/UCM231720.pdf (accessed 27 April 2011).