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Expert review

Novel oral anticoagulants in acute coronary syndrome: re-evaluating the thrombin hypothesis

Despite widespread adoption of acetylsalicylic acid and P2Y12 receptor inhibitor therapy as the standard of care for secondary event prevention in patients with acute coronary syndrome (ACS), the rate of cardiovascular death or myocardial infarction following discharge is approximately 24-31% over five years, indicating an important unmet need to reduce further the risk of recurrent ACS events. Because thrombin has a role in arterial thrombus generation, a mechanistic rationale exists for adding an anticoagulant to dual antiplatelet therapy to reduce cardiovascular event rates and mortality. The direct thrombin inhibitor dabigatran and the direct Factor Xa inhibitors rivaroxaban and apixaban have been investigated for this application, with only rivaroxaban successfully completing a phase III trial. These results suggest that dose selection is of paramount importance in this indication, with lower anticoagulant doses (relative to those used in other indications, such as stroke prevention in atrial fibrillation) plus low-dose acetylsalicylic acid potentially improving cardiovascular outcomes. This article reviews clinical trial data of anticoagulants for secondary event prevention in patients with ACS; it also discusses the mechanistic reasons that may underlie these observations and looks towards the potential impact of findings from the ATLAS ACS 2 TIMI 51 trial on clinical practice.

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