Semaglutide, reduction in glycated haemoglobin and the risk of diabetic retinopathy

Diabetes Obes Metab. 2018 Apr;20(4):889-897. doi: 10.1111/dom.13172. Epub 2018 Jan 8.


Aims: To evaluate diabetic retinopathy (DR) data from across the SUSTAIN clinical trial programme.

Materials and methods: The SUSTAIN clinical trial programme evaluated the efficacy and safety of semaglutide, a glucagon-like peptide-1 analogue, for the treatment of type 2 diabetes (T2D). In SUSTAIN 6, a 2-year, pre-approval cardiovascular outcomes trial, semaglutide was associated with a significant increase in the risk of DR complications (DRC) vs placebo. DR data from across the SUSTAIN trials were evaluated, and post hoc analyses of the SUSTAIN 6 data were conducted. These included subgroup analyses to identify at-risk patients and a mediation analysis with initial change in glycated haemoglobin (HbA1c; percentage-points at week 16) as a covariate, to examine the role of the magnitude of reduction in HbA1c as an intermediate factor affecting risk of DRC.

Results: There was no imbalance in DR adverse events across the SUSTAIN 1 to 5 and Japanese trials. The majority of the effect with semaglutide vs placebo in SUSTAIN 6 may be attributed to the magnitude and rapidity of HbA1c reduction during the first 16 weeks of treatment in patients who had pre-existing DR and poor glycaemic control at baseline, and who were treated with insulin.

Conclusions: Early worsening of DR is a known phenomenon associated with the rapidity and magnitude of improvement in glycaemic control with insulin; the DRC findings in SUSTAIN 6 are consistent with this. Guidance regarding the early worsening of DR is recommended with insulin. Similar recommendations may be appropriate for semaglutide.

Keywords: GLP-1 analogue; antidiabetic drug; diabetic retinopathy.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Blood Glucose / drug effects*
  • Blood Glucose / metabolism
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / blood
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / complications
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / drug therapy*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / epidemiology*
  • Diabetic Retinopathy / blood
  • Diabetic Retinopathy / epidemiology*
  • Diabetic Retinopathy / etiology
  • Female
  • Glucagon-Like Peptides / adverse effects
  • Glucagon-Like Peptides / therapeutic use*
  • Glycated Hemoglobin A / drug effects*
  • Glycated Hemoglobin A / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Japan / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Risk Factors


  • Blood Glucose
  • Glycated Hemoglobin A
  • semaglutide
  • Glucagon-Like Peptides