Introduction: Systemic sclerosis (SSc) is a severe and costly multiorgan autoimmune connective tissue disease characterised by vasculopathy and fibrosis. One of the major causes of SSc-related death is pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH), which develops in 12-15% of patients with SSc and accounts for 30-40% of deaths. In situ thrombosis in the small calibre peripheral pulmonary vessels resulting from endothelial dysfunction and an imbalance of anticoagulant and prothrombotic mediators has been implicated in the complex pathophysiology of SSc-related PAH (SSc-PAH), with international clinical guidelines recommending the use of anticoagulants for some types of PAH, such as idiopathic PAH. However, anticoagulation has not become part of standard clinical care for patients with SSc-PAH as only observational evidence exists to support its use. Therefore, we present the rationale and methodology of a phase III randomised controlled trial (RCT) to evaluate the efficacy, safety and cost-effectiveness of anticoagulation in SSc-PAH.
Methods and analysis: This Australian multicentre RCT will compare 2.5 mg apixaban with placebo, in parallel treatment groups randomised in a 1:1 ratio, both administered twice daily for 3â €...years as adjunct therapy to stable oral PAH therapy. The composite primary outcome measure will be the time to death or clinical worsening of PAH. Secondary outcomes will include functional capacity, health-related quality of life measures and adverse events. A cost-effectiveness analysis of anticoagulation versus placebo will also be undertaken.
Ethics and dissemination: Ethical approval for this RCT has been granted by the Human Research Ethics Committees of all participating centres. An independent data safety monitoring board will review safety and tolerability data for the duration of the trial. The findings of this RCT are to be published in open access journals.