Boehringer Ingelheim's Pradaxa blood clot preventer has been associated with a slightly higher risk of heart attack or acute coronary syndrome, according to results of a meta-analysis of several studies reported in a major medical journal.
The relative increase in risk to comparative medicines was found to range from 27 to 33 percent, however the absolute risk increase for suffering a heart attack was only 0.27 percent, the authors of the meta-analysis said in the study published on Monday in the Archives of Internal Medicine online edition.
Pradaxa, known chemically as dabigatran, is approved in the United States for stroke prevention in patients suffering from an irregular heart beat known as atrial fibrillation, and in Europe to prevent strokes caused by blood clots in patients who have undergone hip and knee replacements.
The medicine from the privately held German drugmaker is seen as an alternative to decades old warfarin, the highly effective but difficult to use blood thinner.
Pradaxa, which is being touted in a large direct-to-consumer advertising campaign, is expected to compete with two other new blood clot and stroke preventers - Xarelto from Bayer AG and Johnson & Johnson, and apixaban from Bristol-Myers Squibb Co and Pfizer Inc.
All three of the new anticoagulants are expected to be widely used and generate billions of dollars in sales.
Doctors from the Cleveland Clinic conducted the meta-analysis based on data from seven clinical trials of Pradaxa involving more than 39,500 patients. The studies compared Pradaxa to either warfarin, enoxaparin - another widely used blood thinner sold under the band name Lovenox - or a placebo.
The meta-analysis also found that the rate of death was lower for patients who received Pradaxa than those got other medicines in the clinical trials - 4.83 percent versus 5.02 percent in the control groups.
"The overall benefit and risk balance of dabigatran use appears to be favorable in patients with atrial fibrillation because of reduction in ischemic stroke," the study authors wrote. However, they caution, "clinicians should consider the potential of these serious harmful cardiovascular effects with use of dabigatran."
They called for further investigation of the Pradaxa heart risk, especially if used in populations at high risk of heart attack or acute coronary syndrome - an umbrella term for patients who have heart attacks or chest pain typically caused by a blocked coronary artery.
The study authors recommend that doctors "retain a critical view as a powerful drug enters clinical use on a potentially massive scale."
In a related editor's note on the meta-analysis findings, Dr. Rita Redberg wrote: "These additional concerns deserve serious consideration in weighing the risks and benefits of dabigatran and highlight the importance of continued collective analysis of data after drug approval."