A drug which thins the blood and can be taken as a pill is being hailed as a major breakthrough in the prevention of stroke.
The new drug can be taken by mouth
It could have fewer side effects and be easier to take than warfarin, which is used by thousands of patients in the UK.
The drug is the first in a new class of anticoagulants. Unlike many other similar drugs it can be swallowed instead of injected.
Called ximelagatran, research shows it is at least as
safe and effective as warfarin, a drug more commonly
known for its use as rat poison.
Doctors have relied on warfarin for the past 50 years to
reduce the risk of stroke in patients with a condition
called atrial fibrillation abnormal heart rhythms.
These are remarkable results and this is a major
Dr Jean-Pierre Bassand, cardiologist
Around one in 20 people aged 65 or over have atrial
fibrillation. Sufferers face a very high risk of clots
forming within the heart and making their way to the
brain, where they cut off the blood supply.
Although warfarin is extremely effective, it is difficult to
use and can be dangerous. It can cause serious internal
bleeding in the brain and patients need regular blood
tests to make sure the drug is not exceeding safety
As a result, it's believed a high proportion of patients
with atrial fibrillation do not get the treatment they need
to prevent life-threatening strokes.
The new drug can be taken easily, needs no safety
monitoring and does not increase the risk of bleeding.
Experts believe it could dramatically improve the
treatment of the condition.
"These are remarkable results and this is a major
breakthrough," said Dr Jean-Pierre Bassand, from the
department of cardiology at the University of Besancon,
France, who was not involved in studies on the
"The advantages are clearly evident."
Researchers presented the results of a major trial
comparing ximelagatran with warfarin in nearly 3,500
patients in 23 countries around the world.
Patients were given regular warfarin or a daily dose of
ximelagatran and monitored to see how many how
many developed strokes as well as the number of
The results showed that after 17 months of treatment,
56 patients in the warfarin group had suffered strokes
compared to only 40 in the ximelagatran group.
When researchers looked at bleeding complications,
they found "significantly fewer" cases of haemorrhaging
among those on the new drug.
"We found ximelagatran was at least as effective as
warfarin and there were fewer bleeding complications,"
said lead researcher Dr Jonathan Halperin from the
Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York.
"This study is the culmination of more than decade of
drug development research.
"We have found something
safer and easier to tolerate than warfarin.
"It means we
could extend treatment more widely across the
population and brings us closer to our goal of
preventing thousands of strokes."