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Doctors and millions of patients have long wanted a better alternative to warfarin, an inexpensive generic drug also sold under brand names such as Coumadin. Getting the dose of warfarin correct is so tricky that patients must have frequent blood tests to ensure they’re getting enough to prevent clots but not enough to cause internal bleeding. Some foods interact with warfarin, compounding the difficulty.

Bristol-Myers discovered Eliquis and since 2007 has been testing it in partnership with New York-based Pfizer. The European Union approved it in May for preventing blood clots in patients getting hip or knee replacement surgery, and the companies are considering whether to seek approval for that use in the U.S., Hortas said. The drug also is in late-stage testing for treating patients with clots in major blood vessels.

Pradaxa, also known as dabigatran, was first to market, getting approved in October 2010 for patients with atrial fibrillation. Xarelto has since been approved for patients with atrial fibrillation and for preventing blood clots after hip or knee replacement surgery. But J&J said last week the FDA denied its request to expand approval of Xarelto to prevent life-threatening blood clots in patients with acute coronary artery disease, and it expects to work with them to address the questions as quickly as possible.

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AP Business Writer Tom Murphy in Indianapolis contributed to this story.

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Linda A. Johnson can be followed at http://twitter.com/LindaJ_onPharma