New blood-thinner drugs promise decreased risk

LOS ANGELES A new experimental drug may help not just these patients, but others with heart disease as well.

For the first time in more than half a century, Americans who need blood-thinners may soon have a more attractive alternative: drugs with fewer side effects and more convenience -- good news for the many who suffer from an irregular heartbeat.

An unpredictable, racing heart is why 41-year-old Sean Cronkite is waiting for a heart transplant.

"Eventually it would go into absolute complete heart failure. It would stop working eventually," said Sean.

Sean was born with a congenital heart defect that led to the seriousness of his case. But like 2 million other Americans with atrial fibrillation, he has a higher risk of stroke. He's been on a series of blood thinners, including Coumadin.

Now, a large, international study reveals a new drug called Rivaroxaban may be more effective than Coumadin, without the many side effects.

People on Coumadin have to watch what they eat because of the danger of interactions, and they have to get their blood checked every month.

Last month, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a similar drug called Pradaxa.

Huntington Memorial Hospital Cardiologist Russell Ching says these medications would be an attractive option for patients.

"There is a decreased risk of intercranial bleeds," said Ching. "There are less side effects. It is simpler to take."

For 60 years, the main treatment has been Coumadin, also known as Warfarin. But doctors say it's tough to use. Too little can result in strokes and too much can lead to dangerous bleeding.

"These newer drugs are easier to give. You don't have to have blood tests. And it thins the blood, and it seems to be as equal if not better than the standard therapy of Coumadin," said Ching.

If Rivaroxaban is approved, the biggest road block for patients would be the cost.

"You're talking about possibly $8 a day versus pennies a day. And for a month's supply, that's a lot of money," said Ching.

If approved, Rivaroxaban would be sold by Johnson & Johnson Inc.'s Ortho-McNeil Division in the U.S.

A similar drug, Pradaxa, was approved last month. That drug has to be taken twice a day. Rivaroxaban is taken once a day.

Two other new blood-thinners are also in the pipeline.

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