Boehringer Ingelheim has launched its oral anticoagulant Pradaxa (dabigatran) in the UK, the first to be made available in the country since the launch of warfarin in the early 1950s and a drug that could well be a blockbuster for the German firm.

Pradaxa was recently approved by European regulators for the prevention of venous thromboembolism in patients undergoing hip or knee replacement surgery and the UK and Germany represent its first markets.

Boehringer said that many of the 131,000 UK patients who every year undergo total hip or knee replacement are at high risk of (VTE) and without thromboprophylaxis, as many as 60% will go on to develop deep vein thrombosis. A recently published Department of Health report highlighted that VTE caused in excess of 25,000 deaths per annum in UK hospitals, exceeding the combined total of deaths from breast cancer, AIDS and traffic accidents, representing 25 times the incidence of MRSA.

The market is clearly there and Boehringer believes that Pradaxa will take a sizeable share of it given its convenience. One of the most commonly used anticoagulants in this patient group is low molecular weight heparin which must be administered - often by the patient - as an injection but as Pradaxa is given as a fixed oral dose, it can be taken both in and out of the hospital setting.

The company quoted Simon Frostick, Professor of Orthopaedics at the University of Liverpool, as saying that “given the trend for shorter hospital stays following joint replacement surgery and longer duration of thromboprophylaxis, it is becoming increasingly important to have anticoagulant treatments available which are well tolerated and easy to use in an out-patient setting.”

The NHS list price for Pradaxa will be 75mg 10 capsules at £21.00 and 60 capsules for £126.00. For 110mg of the drug, the cost is the same.