October 11, 2018
11 min read

Antithrombotic therapy after PCI in AF requires careful consideration

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For patients undergoing PCI, dual antiplatelet therapy plays an important role in preventing thrombotic events. For some patients, however, particularly those with atrial fibrillation who require an anticoagulant for stroke prevention, the risks of treatment may outweigh the benefits.

“In determining the best approach for antithrombotic therapy in patients on oral anticoagulation for AF, it can be difficult to balance the prevention of thrombosis with the risk for bleeding,” Pascal Vranckx, MD, PhD, medical director of the cardiac ICU at Hartcentrum Hasselt and a member of the faculty of medicine and life sciences at Hasselt University in Belgium, told Cardiology Today.

In this era of new research and novel drugs, though, interventional cardiologists are making progress in learning how best to address the increased risk for bleeding conferred when DAPT is stacked on top of anticoagulation in this patient population. Trials such as WOEST, PIONEER-AF PCI and RE-DUAL PCI, for instance, suggest that an oral anticoagulant plus a single antiplatelet agent — a P2Y12 inhibitor — may be most advantageous in these patients. Other large trials are also currently underway.

Roxana Mehran, MD, from Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, said cardiologists have become more aware of bleeding risks after PCI in patients with AF.
Roxana Mehran, MD, from Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, said cardiologists have become more aware of bleeding risks after PCI in patients with AF.

Source: Mount Sinai Health System. Reprinted with permission.

“In the past, our entire focus was on reducing ischemic events,” Roxana Mehran, MD, associate medical editor of Cardiology Today’s Intervention and professor of medicine at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, said during an interview. “We knew bleeding was an issue, but we felt like there was no way out. Now, we have added direct oral anticoagulants — which are as effective or, in some cases, more effective than vitamin K antagonists for stroke prevention — to our armamentarium and we also have clinical trials showing that dropping aspirin will reduce bleeding, so our standard of care is shifting.”

In fact, a recently issued update to an expert consensus statement now recommends direct oral anticoagulants instead of vitamin K antagonists and dropping aspirin in most cases after PCI with stenting for patients with AF.

A multifaceted issue

C. Michael Gibson, MS, MD
C. Michael Gibson

Currently, patients with AF represent approximately 5% to 8% of the population undergoing PCI. Unfortunately, a major challenge in this patient population is the need to mitigate risks for bleeding and ischemic events, according to C. Michael Gibson, MS, MD, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and chief of clinical research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

“The risk factors that put a patient at risk for ischemia are the same risk factors that put a patient at risk for bleeding, so it’s a tightrope walk getting it right,” he told Cardiology Today.


Furthermore, as the population ages, the prevalence of AF and the probability for CAD requiring coronary interventions will increase, said Dominick J. Angiolillo, MD, PhD, professor of medicine, medical director of the Cardiovascular Research Program and program director of the Interventional Cardiology Fellowship Program at the University Florida College of Medicine – Jacksonville.

Dominick J. Angiolillo, MD, PhD
Dominick J. Angiolillo

“There is definitely a need to define antithrombotic strategies for this ever-growing patient population to reduce the risk for bleeding complications while simultaneously maintaining efficacy, which is a frequent problem in clinical practice,” Angiolillo, a member of the Cardiology Today’s Intervention Editorial Board, said in an interview.

In the past, as a way to balance these risks, “triple therapy” — the addition of DAPT to an oral anticoagulant — became the mainstay of treatment in these patients. The concept was built on existing knowledge, evidence and clinical concerns, but the strategy is problematic, experts told Cardiology Today.

Although the complexity of this patient population is primarily responsible for the complicated nature of antithrombotic therapy after PCI, the field has also been hindered by a lack of data, according to Renato Lopes, MD, MHS, PhD, professor of medicine in the division of cardiology at Duke University Medical Center.

“The problem with many previous trials is that this population has not been extensively studied,” he told Cardiology Today, noting that patients who required DAPT for CAD were often excluded from trials of oral anticoagulants. “The good news is that data from trials examining these patients have emerged during the past few years, and there are even more on the horizon.”

‘Abandoning aspirin’

Multiple trials have investigated strategies to reduce the risk for bleeding while still reaping the benefits of antithrombotic therapy in patients with AF.

Experts who spoke with Cardiology Today credited one study in particular — the WOEST trial — with propelling the field forward. The trial, which was published in The Lancet in 2013, demonstrated a significant reduction in bleeding risk with an oral anticoagulant and clopidogrel only — or “double therapy” — when compared with an oral anticoagulant, clopidogrel and aspirin (see Table below).

“The researchers for WOEST, which was a bold study, were the first to dare to drop aspirin, and it worked,” Christopher P. Cannon, MD, senior physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, said in an interview.


Despite the promising data, the study’s small size gave physicians pause, Christopher B. Granger, MD, professor of medicine at Duke University, told Cardiology Today.

“WOEST was the first to challenge the paradigm of triple therapy, but we all thought of it as more of a hypothesis-generating study as opposed to a definitive study,” he said. “However, it may well turn out to be correct.”

Results from WOEST, he noted, appear to be playing out in larger, more recent trials, including PIONEER-AF PCI and RE-DUAL PCI (see Table below).

The PIONEER-AF PCI study, which was published in The New England Journal of Medicine in 2016, also showed reduced bleeding risk in patients who received double therapy with low-dose rivaroxaban (Xarelto, Janssen/Bayer) and a P2Y12 inhibitor only or very low-dose rivaroxaban and DAPT, compared with standard therapy with a vitamin K antagonist plus DAPT. Similarly, in RE-DUAL PCI, published in NEJM in 2017, bleeding risk was lower in patients who received double therapy with dabigatran (Pradaxa, Boeheringer Ingelheim) and a P2Y12 inhibitor only, compared with triple therapy using warfarin as the oral anticoagulant.

A multitude of treatment options

Although recent trials lend credence to the concept of double therapy, many pieces are still missing from the puzzle, according to Lopes.

Renato Lopes, MD, MHS, PhD
Renato D. Lopes

WOEST, PIONEER-AF PCI and RE-DUAL PCI may have opened the door to a novel treatment strategy, but also raised questions regarding the optimal combination of drugs, appropriate duration of therapy and whether removing aspirin from the equation is actually responsible for the decrease in bleeding risk associated with double therapy.

Outside of the setting of PCI, pivotal AF trials have generally favored the direct oral anticoagulants, including dabigatran, rivaroxaban, apixaban (Eliquis, Bristol-Myers Squibb/Pfizer) and edoxaban (Savaysa, Daiichi Sankyo), over vitamin K antagonists.

The direct oral anticoagulants are also more convenient, according to Mehran.

“They offer a consistency in treatment and have a direct effect without any issues related to food intake or dietary intake that are often seen with vitamin K antagonists,” she said. “There also is no need for checking INR, and we know that as long as the patients are taking the medication at the prescribed dose, they’re getting consistent benefit in anticoagulation.”

The primary problem, however, is that WOEST, PIONEER-AF PCI and RE-DUAL PCI, although similar in concept, evaluated and compared different drugs, doses and strategies, according to Lopes.

“The question we cannot answer is how much of the reduction in bleeding seen in PIONEER-AF PCI and RE-DUAL PCI is attributable to our use of a better agent, such as dabigatran or rivaroxaban, instead of warfarin, and how much is because we have dropped aspirin,” he said.


Selection of the appropriate antiplatelet agent is also a common issue, according to Granger. Although this concern has taken a backseat as researchers focus on double therapy and direct oral anticoagulants, the availability of several P2Y12 inhibitors adds another dimension to an already complex problem.

“In most cases, we believe it makes the most sense to use clopidogrel, but it is a legitimate question whether it is acceptable to use ticagrelor (Brilinta, AstraZeneca) or prasugrel (Effient, Daiichi Sankyo/Eli Lilly) in this setting,” he said.

Ongoing trials

Fortunately, Mehran noted, physicians will not need to wait much longer to have answers to some of these important questions. The ENTRUST-AF-PCI and AUGUSTUS trials, for which data are expected to be available in 2019, will shed more light on the topic of antithrombotic therapy in patients with AF, she said.

Pascal Vranckx, MD, PhD
Pascal Vranckx

The ENTRUST-AF-PCI trial, for which Vranckx is a study co-chair, is comparing edoxaban plus a P2Y12 inhibitor with standard triple therapy with a vitamin K antagonist in patients with AF who underwent successful PCI. The study will help complete the dataset regarding the use of novel oral anticoagulants in this patient population, he noted.

“ENTRUST-AF-PCI is the most pragmatic trial and very close to daily clinical practice and current guidelines and is also powered for superiority for the bleeding endpoint,” Vranckx said.

AUGUSTUS, however, will add to the existing evidence in a different way by offering a more complete picture in terms of treatment strategies in this patient population, experts told Cardiology Today.

“It is a robust, excellent study with randomization and a unique design,” Mehran said.

Christopher B. Granger, MD
Christopher B. Granger

The AUGUSTUS trial, for which Lopes is principal investigator, has a 2x2 factorial design in which patients who require anticoagulants and antiplatelet therapy are treated with a P2Y12 inhibitor and are randomly assigned apixaban or warfarin. Patients will also be assigned in a double-blind fashion to aspirin or placebo. In this way, the researchers can compare triple therapy with warfarin, triple therapy with apixaban, double therapy with warfarin and a P2Y12 inhibitor only and double therapy with apixaban and a P2Y12 inhibitor only.

“Should the results from ENTRUST-AF-PCI and AUGUSTUS show that a novel oral anticoagulant without aspirin or with a short duration of aspirin plus a P2Y12 inhibitor is a safe and effective approach, physicians will be reassured that double therapy with a direct oral anticoagulant is the preferred strategy,” Granger said.


“With the current trials, we’re at least halfway there. The robustness of the AUGUSTUS trial will provide additional insights and near-definitive answers,” Angiolillo said.

Current practice

Even as they await more answers, interventional cardiologists have worked to incorporate the existing knowledge into clinical practice.

Before publication of the most recent trials, the 2014 American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association non-ST-elevation ACS guideline and a discussion in the 2016 ACC/AHA focused update to the guideline on DAPT duration recommended minimizing the duration of triple therapy to limit bleeding risk; the use of proton pump inhibitors in patients with a history of gastrointestinal bleeding; assessment of ischemic and bleeding risks using validated risk predictors, such as CHA2DS2-VASc and HAS-BLED scores; clopidogrel be used as the P2Y12 inhibitor of choice; use of low-dose aspirin; and consideration of a target INR of 2 to 2.5 when warfarin is used.

A consensus statement addressing the topic drafted by experts in the United States in Canada was published in 2016 in Circulation: Cardiovascular Interventions and updated in July 2018 in Circulation.

“In [the initial] statement, we embraced the two trials that were available at the time, which were WOEST and ISAR-Triple,” Angiolillo, lead author of the consensus statement, told Cardiology Today.

The publication of PIONEER-AF PCI and RE-DUAL PCI, however, prompted an update. The statement recommends non-vitamin K antagonist oral anticoagulants over vitamin K antagonists, and double therapy without aspirin over triple therapy, noting that “extending the use of aspirin beyond hospital discharge (ie, triple therapy) should be considered only for selected patients at high ischemic/thrombotic and low bleeding risks and for a limited period of time.”

Currently, experts told Cardiology Today that triple therapy, although still being used, has become less popular.

Christopher P. Cannon, MD
Christopher P. Cannon

“There has been a shift toward using double therapy vs. triple therapy in practice, and that mood has tracked with the evidence,” Cannon said. “WOEST was small, but we have been desperately seeking a solution. Then, with the publication of PIONEER-AF PCI and RE-DUAL PCI, we have more evidence and physicians have become more interested in a double-therapy strategy.”

Angiolillo noted, however, that many physicians still struggle with the concept of dropping aspirin at the time of hospital discharge.

“There has been a clear paradigm shift in interventional pharmacology where, for the past several decades, we’ve built our antithrombotic approaches on top of aspirin, but with that, we have consistently found more bleeding,” he said. “It’s definitely going to take some time before double therapy will be routinely embraced in clinical practice.”


Nevertheless, as the field awaits more evidence, including the results of AUGUSTUS, caution and individualizing therapy are key, according to Gibson.

“All physicians have to pick the right combination of drugs that maximizes effectiveness and minimizes bleeding, and those combinations may be different for different patients,” he told Cardiology Today. “We should make sure to talk to our patients, inform them of the risks of each treatment option with respect to stroke vs. bleeding events and engage in shared decision-making.” – by Melissa Foster

Disclosures: Angiolillo reports he received consultant fees or honoraria from Amgen, Aralez, AstraZeneca, Bayer, Biosensors, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Chiesi, Daiichi Sankyo, Eli Lilly, Janssen, Merck, PLx Pharma, Pfizer, Sanofi and The Medicines Company; compensation for participation in review activities from CeloNova and St. Jude Medical; and institutional research grants from Amgen, AstraZeneca, Bayer, Biosensors, CeloNova, CSL Behring, Daiichi Sankyo, Eisai, Eli Lilly, Gilead, Janssen, Matsutani Chemical Industry Co., Merck, Novartis, Osprey Medical and RenalGuard Solutions. Cannon reports he served as an adviser or consultant for Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, Amgen, Arisaph Pharmaceuticals, AstraZeneca, Boehringer Ingelheim, Bristol-Myers Squibb, GlaxoSmithKline, Kowa Pharmaceuticals America; Merck & Company, Pfizer, Regeneron, Sanofi and Takeda, and he received research grants from Amgen, Arisaph Pharmaceuticals, Boehringer Ingelhim, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Daiichi Sankyo, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Merck & Co. and Takeda Pharmaceuticals North America. Gibson reports he served as consultant for Amarin, Amgen, Bayer HealthCare Pharmaceuticals, Boston Clinical Research Institute, Cardiovascular Research Foundation, Eli Lilly and Company, Gilead Sciences, Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Johnson & Johnson, The Medicines Company, Novo Nordisk, Pfizer, PharmaMar, Roche Diagnostics, St. Francis Hospital and St. Jude Medical; he received research grants from Angel Medical Systems, Bayer HealthCare Pharmaceuticals, CSL Behring, Ortho-McNeil-Janssen, Johnson & Johnson and Portola Pharmaceuticals; he received royalties as a contributor from UpToDate in Cardiovascular Medicine; and he received research grant funding or served as a past speaker or consultant for Abbott Laboratories, Angel Medical Systems, Atrium Medical Corp., Archemix, AstraZeneca, Baxter, Biogen Idec, Boehringer Ingelheim, Boston Scientific, Bristol-Myers Squibb, British Biotech, Ciba Geigy Corp., Consensus Medical Communications, Cytori Therapeutics, Daiichi Sankyo, Exeter Group, FibroGen, FoldRx, Genentech, GlaxoSmithKline, Google, Heartscape Technologies, Ikaria, Ischemix, Merck & Co., Medtronic Vascular, Navigant, Novartis, Pfizer, Pocket Medicine, Point Biomedical Corp., Portola Pharmaceuticals, Regado Biosciences, Sanofi Aventis, Schering-Plough, Smith Kline Beecham, St. Jude Medical, Stealth BioTherapeutics, The Medicines Company, TImi3 Systems, Volcano Corp and Walk Vascular. Granger reports he received research grants from AstraZeneca, Bayer, Boehringer Ingelheim, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Duke Clinical Research Institute, GlaxoSmithKline, Janssen, Medtronic Foundation, Novartis and Pfizer; and he received fees for consulting or other services from AbbVie, AstraZeneca, Bayer, Boehringer Ingelheim, Boston Scientific, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Gilead Sciences, GlaxoSmithKline, Janssen, Medscape, Medtronic, Medtronic Foundation, Merck, Novartis, Pfizer, Rho Pharmaceuticals, Sirtex and Verseon. Lopes reports he received research grants from Amgen, Bristol-Myers Squibb, GlaxoSmithKline, Medtronic, Pfizer and Sanofi Aventis; he received fees for consulting or other services from Bayer AG, Boehringer Ingelheim and Bristol-Myers Squibb; and he received fees for educational activities or lectures from Pfizer. Mehran reports she received consultant fees from AstraZeneca, Bayer, CSL Behring, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Merck & Co., Osprey Medical, Regado Biosciences, The Medicines Company and Watermark Consulting; she has equity in Claret Medical and Elixir Medical Corp.; she gave industry-sponsored lectures for PlatformQ and Sanofi Aventis; she served on the scientific advisory board for Abbott Laboratories, AstraZeneca, Boston Scientific, Covidien, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Merck & Co., The Medicines Company and Sanofi Aventis; and she participated in other activities for Covidien. Vranckx reports he received speaking or consultant fees from Bayer Healthcare, Daiichi Sankyo and Terumo.