For decades, the options for therapeutic anticoagulation were limited to unfractionated heparin (UFH) and vitamin K antagonists (VKA), and their well-known limitations had to be accepted. With the introduction of the various LMWHs, the short-term anticoagulation could be much improved. The heparins delivered the proof of concept that FXa and thrombin represent suitable targets for therapeutic anticoagulation. Consequently, the search for new anticoagulants focus on inhibitors of thrombin or FXa. Apart from the VKA, the anticoagulants presently available or in an advanced stage of development can thus be divided in two classes: One are the glyco-anticoagulants with the natural sulfated glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) (UFH, LMWHs, and danaparoid) and the synthetic oligosaccharides (OS) (fondaparinux, idraparinux, and SR123781A). The other class are the xenobiotic anticoagulants, i.e. proteins and synthetic chemical entities. Die glyco-anticoagulants act partially (GAGs) or exclusively (oligosaccharides) by catalysing antithrombin, whereas the xenobiotic anticoagulants are direct inhibitors of either thrombin or FXa. At present, three direct thrombin inhibitors (DTI) (lepirudin, argatroban, and bivalirudin) are clinically used for limited indications, whereas there is still no direct FXa inhibitor available. The DTI ximelagatran represented the first oral anticoagulant since the introduction of VKA, but was withdrawn due to safety concerns. Among numerous drug candidates in the clinical development, two orally active anticoagulants dabigatran etexilate, a DTI, and rivaroxaban, the direct FXa inhibitor, are in the most advanced stage of development and may allow a paradigm change in anticoagulation in the foreseeable future. This review describes the pharmacological profile of all these anticoagulants.
Keywords: Glycosaminoglycans, low molecular weight heparins, fondaparinux, pentasaccharides, SR123781A, direct thrombin inhibitors, direct factor Xa inhibitors, dabigatran, rivaroxaban