Warfarin is the most widely used blood thinning medication, or anticoagulant, prescribed to prevent stroke and to treat blood clots. Determining the optimal warfarin dose to prevent clots while avoiding dangerous bleeding is difficult. To ensure that a safe balance is achieved, patients taking warfarin must regularly visit their doctor for blood tests.
Investigators have identified several factors that affect how the body breaks down warfarin and that consequently influence dose requirements. These include clinical factors such as height and weight and the presence of genes that help the body break down warfarin (CYP2C9) and help to activate clotting (VKORC1).
While researchers agree that these clinical and genetic factors affect individual patients’ dose requirements, whether this translates to achieving and maintaining a safe level of anticoagulation was explored in two recent clinical trials with conflicting results.
In 2013, the EU-PACT trial reported that calculating a patient’s warfarin dose based on the presence of genetic factors (known as genotype-guided dosing) improved anticoagulation control. Meanwhile, the Clarification of Optimal Anticoagulation through Genetics trial reported that a similar genotype-guided dosing strategy did not appear to make a difference among patients enrolled. Of note, the COAG trial included more African-Americans than did EU-PACT (27 percent of the study population vs. 0.9 percent), and the African-Americans enrolled actually fared worse after receiving genotype-guided therapy.
According to a research group led by Nita Limdi, Ph.D., Pharm.D., professor in the UAB Department of Neurology and interim director of the Hugh Kaul Personalized Medicine Institute, the studies’ disparate findings may be attributed to differences in racial diversity among participants.
|Warfarin is the most widely used blood thinning medication, or anticoagulant, prescribed to prevent stroke and to treat blood clots. Determining the optimal warfarin dose to prevent clots while avoiding dangerous bleeding is difficult. To ensure that a safe balance is achieved, patients taking warfarin must regularly visit their doctor for blood tests.|
In order to better understand how genetics and clinical factors influence warfarin dose across race groups, investigators analyzed 1,357 patients (595 African-American; 762 European-American) treated with warfarin, calculating and comparing their recommended dose according to both race-adjusted dosing models (e.g., COAG) and race-specific dosing models. As 43 percent of the study population was African-American, the research team was able to conduct a robust assessment of the impact of clinical and genetic factors on warfarin dose by race.
After calculating and comparing recommended warfarin dose for study participants according to race-combined dosing models and race-specific dosing models, researchers made several significant observations. While genetic factors accounted for a larger proportion of the dose variability for European-American patients, clinical factors accounted for a larger dose variability in African-Americans. They noted that gene variants may have a different effect on dose across race groups. For example, European-Americans with a variant of CYP2C9 (CYP2C9*2) required less of the drug according to race-specific dosing models, yet African-Americans did not. While all participants, regardless of race, who carried VKORC1 required lower dose, according to race-specific dosing models, the proportional dose reduction was greater among European-Americans.
Researchers conclude that the influence of genetic and clinical factors on warfarin dose differs by race, and therefore recommend that race-specific equations, rather than race-adjusted equations, be used to guide warfarin dosing.
“Our findings highlight the need for adequate racial representation in warfarin dosing studies to improve our understanding of how the factors that influence warfarin dose differ according to race,” said Limdi. “This is the first step to developing race-specific algorithms to personalize therapy.”