Overview of Glucagon-Like Peptide-1 Receptor Agonists for the Treatment of Patients with Type 2 Diabetes

Am Health Drug Benefits. 2017 Jun;10(4):178-188.


Background: It is estimated that 29.1 million people or 9.3% of the US population have diabetes, which contributes to considerable medical and financial burden. Type 2 diabetes mellitus is characterized by insulin resistance and insulin secretion impairment leading to hyperglycemia. The presence of insulin resistance is strongly correlated with obesity.

Objective: This article reviews the available glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) receptor agonists and their role in the management of patients with diabetes, to help guide the selection of the most suitable agent for the individualized treatment of patients with type 2 diabetes.

Discussion: This article reviews the evidence from phase 3 clinical trials for each of the 5 GLP-1 receptor agonists by comparing them against one another and with other existing therapies, including metformin, dipeptidyl peptidase-4 (DPP-4) inhibitors, and sulfonylureas. Incretin-based therapies have emerged as attractive agents for the treatment of type 2 diabetes. They target the GLP-1 hormone, which is partly responsible for insulin release and for attenuating hyperglycemia during meals (ie, the incretin effect). The 2 classes of incretin-based therapy currently available are GLP-1 receptor agonists and DPP-4 inhibitors, which prevent the breakdown of GLP-1. Both classes are attractive options, given their glucose-lowering effects without the adverse effects of hypoglycemia and weight gain. The different mechanisms of action of these therapies result in generally greater efficacy with GLP-1 receptor agonists, albeit at the expense of slightly increased gastrointestinal symptoms. These agents exert their effects by improving glucose-dependent insulin release, suppressing glucagon release, suppressing hepatic glucose output, and decreasing the rate of gastric emptying, thereby reducing appetite. Currently, 5 GLP-1 receptor agonists are available, including exenatide, liraglutide, albiglutide, dulaglutide, and lixisenatide; semaglutide may soon become available as the newest agent. With the exception of the investigational oral semaglutide, which has shown promising results, the other 5 agents are administered as subcutaneous injections, at different dosing intervals.

Conclusion: Currently, 5 GLP-1 receptor agonists are available for use in the United States. Although they are all in the same drug class, some significant differences exist among the various GLP-1 receptor agonists. The choice of a specific GLP-1 receptor agonist will depend on the patient preferences, potential adverse effects, and cost.

Keywords: DPP-4 inhibitors; GLP-1 receptor agonists; albiglutide; diabetes; dulaglutide; exenatide; incretin-based therapy; insulin; liraglutide; lixisenatide; metformin; semaglutide; sulfonylureas; type 2 diabetes.