Direct-acting oral anticoagulants (DOACs) were claimed to cause a potential paradigm shift in the therapeutic scenario of patients requiring short- and long-term anticoagulation, by virtue of their pharmacological properties, perceived as innovative. The evidence gathered so far (from pre-approval pivotal trials to real-world post-marketing observational data) consistently confirmed that DOACs are overall comparable to vitamin-K antagonists (VKAs) in terms of safety, efficacy and effectiveness and unequivocally documented a consistent and clinically relevant reduced risk of intracranial bleeding in the settings of non-valvular atrial fibrillation (NVAF) and venous thromboembolism (VTE).
Interestingly, two parallel paths can be identified in the current research scenario: A) in the aforementioned consolidated therapeutic indications, an innovative approach is directed towards tailored treatment strategies, to identify patients most likely to benefit from one of the different anticoagulant drugs, in particular subpopulations at increased risk of adverse events (e.g., bleeding); B) in unconventional settings, DOACs are gaining interest for potential use in emerging diseases characterized by arterial and venous thromboembolic risk. In these scenarios, the risk-benefit profile of DOACs, as compared to VKAs or heparins, is less defined.
The aim of this review is to critically assess the body of evidence underlying emerging therapeutic uses of DOACs (e.g., heparin-induced thrombocytopenia, anti-phospholipid antibody syndrome), including evolving issues in special populations (e.g., patients with VTE and cancer or cirrhosis). This will be achieved by analyzing the strength (i.e., systematic reviews, randomized clinical trials, observational studies, case report/series) and consistency (i.e., concordance) of both published and unpublished evidence registered in major public repositories.