BACKGROUND Some patients with atrial fibrillation (AF) cannot be treated with vitamin K antagonists (VKAs) and will therefore not receive effective thromboprophylaxis. The primary objective of the present Phase II trial (NCT00623779) was to assess the feasibility of conducting a study with a novel oral anticoagulant, the direct thrombin inhibitor AZD0837, in patients with AF unable or unwilling to take warfarin, by evaluation of dropout rates and compliance. METHODS Patients were randomised to receive AZD0837 extended-release tablets 150 mg (n=43) or 300 mg (n = 42) once daily, or standard therapy (no treatment, aspirin 75-325 mg or clopidogrel 75 mg once daily; n = 46) for a median treatment duration of 6 weeks. RESULTS Reasons for patients not being treated with warfarin were: refusal or permanent cessation decided by the patient (64.8%), inability to keep international normalised ratio 2-3 over a 3-month period (23.2%), physician assessment that VKA was inappropriate (20.4%) and warfarin allergy (2.8%). Compliance with treatment (mean ± SD) was 97.0 ± 16.5% for AZD0837 150 mg and 99.8 ± 1.4% for 300 mg. Compliance with study visits was high (mean 93-98%). The numbers of dropouts were four, six and three, whilst minor or clinically significant minor bleeds were reported in zero, five and two patients in the AZD0837 150 mg, 300 mg and standard-therapy groups, respectively. No major bleeds were reported. Both doses of AZD0837 reduced levels of fibrin D-dimer and prolonged activated partial thromboplastin time, ecarin clotting time and thrombin clotting time. CONCLUSIONS AZD0837 had a good safety profile during this study, including a low incidence of bleeding events, with effective anticoagulation on pharmacodynamic parameters. A larger study in AF patients unable or unwilling to take warfarin is feasible, as judged by compliance and dropout rates.