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Last Updated:  Thursday, 3 April, 2003, 10:26 GMT 11:26 UK
Clot drug 'safer than warfarin'
The new drug can be taken by mouth
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.

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.

These are remarkable results and this is a major breakthrough
Dr Jean-Pierre Bassand, cardiologist
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.

Clot risk

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 levels.

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 drug.

"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 adverse events.

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."

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