The treatment of acute venous thromboembolism (VTE) is being completely modified with the development of direct oral anticoagulants (DOACs).
Rivaroxaban, apixaban and edoxaban directly inhibit factor Xa, whereas dabigatran inhibits factor IIa. All these drugs are proposed orally, and share pharmacological similarities: fixed doses without any therapeutic drug monitoring, key role of the transporter proteins P-glycoprotein for all of them and metabolism mediated by CYP3A4 for the anti-Xa, short half-life with variable rate of renal elimination.
More than 25 000 patients with acute VTE were included in phase-III studies. Rivaroxaban and apixaban challenged all the conventional therapy (parenteral heparins followed by anti-vitamin K antagonists) whereas edoxaban and dabigatran challenged only anti-vitamin K antagonists. All the DOACs met the non-inferiority efficacy endpoint (recurrent VTE during treatment), whereas the large non-inferiority margin was debated for dabigatran. However, they were associated with better safety and a decreased risk of major bleeding. According to indirect comparisons, there were no statistically significant differences between DOACs in terms of efficacy but some differences are not excluded in term of safety.
Although DOACs allow for simplification of treatment in the majority of patients with acute VTE, their risk/benefit ratio is questioned in elderly patients, patients with mild-to-severe renal impairment, and in some clinical subgroups such as cancer or chronic thromboembolic pulmonary hypertension. Validated reversal strategies (potentially based on laboratory monitoring) are expected for patients with major bleeding, overdose or with a need for surgery.