New drug to prevent strokes

SEVENTY-FOUR Coffs Coast residents have helped to introduce a new stroke drug which could save patients from hundreds of blood tests.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration has approved the medicine Pradax (Dabigatran etexilate) for the prevention of strokes caused by an irregular heartbeat known as atrial fibrillation in patients who have at least one other stroke risk factor.

Coffs Harbour-based cardiologist Dr Jon Waites said the Coffs Coast patients had taken part in the clinical trial for Pradax.

The international trial, designed to establish if Pradax could equal Warfarin in controlling blood clotting and preventing strokes, stretched over three years and involved thousands of patients worldwide.

The Coffs Coast volunteers made up the largest contingent in Australia and New Zealand.

“We do a lot of clinical trails in Coffs Harbour because it continues to be one of the most helpful centres in Australia and New Zealand,” he said.

“We have done about 50 different clinical trials here, so far.”

Dr Waites, who worked on the trial and also did a follow-up trial on patient safety, attended the presentation of the trial results in Munich and said they “nearly fell off our chairs” when the results showed that Pradax was not merely equal to Warfarin, but better and safer.

Atrial fibrillation is one of the most common types of heart arrhythmia.

The top section of the heart quivers and beats out of time with the bottom section of the heart, causing a rapid, irregular heartbeat which is up to four times faster than normal and can cause blood to pool in the heart, leading to blood clots.

Other risk factors could be diabetes, high blood pressure, heart failure, advanced age or a previous stroke.

Warfarin is effective in preventing clotting, but interacts with other drugs and is difficult to manage, so its use involves constant blood testing.

While the good news is Pradax has been proved to control atrial fibrillation and does not require regular blood monitoring or dietary restrictions, the bad news is it is not yet on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme for stroke prevention and is relatively expensive, costing about $150 a month.

Dr Waites said Warfarin, in use for more than 50 years, cost less than one cent a tablet, but if he needed a stroke preventative he would be taking Pradax.

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