Comparative Effectiveness of Glucose-Lowering Drugs for Type 2 Diabetes: A Systematic Review and Network Meta-analysis

Ann Intern Med. 2020 Jun 30. doi: 10.7326/M20-0864. Online ahead of print.


Background: Several pharmacologic options for type 2 diabetes are available.

Purpose: To compare benefits and harms of glucose-lowering drugs in adults with type 2 diabetes.

Data sources: Several databases from inception through 18 December 2019 and on 10 April 2020.

Study selection: English-language randomized trials that had at least 24 weeks of intervention and assessed the effects of glucose-lowering drugs on mortality, glycemic, and vascular outcomes.

Data extraction: Pairs of reviewers extracted data and appraised risk of bias.

Data synthesis: 453 trials assessing 21 antidiabetic interventions from 9 drug classes were included. Interventions included monotherapies (134 trials), add-on to metformin-based therapies (296 trials), and monotherapies versus add-on to metformin therapies (23 trials). There were no differences between treatments in drug-naive patients at low cardiovascular risk. Insulin regimens and specific glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor agonists (GLP-1 RAs) added to metformin-based background therapy produced the greatest reductions in hemoglobin A1c level. In patients at low cardiovascular risk receiving metformin-based background treatment (298 trials), there were no clinically meaningful differences between treatments for mortality and vascular outcomes. In patients at increased cardiovascular risk receiving metformin-based background treatment (21 trials), oral semaglutide, empagliflozin, liraglutide, extended-release exenatide, and dapagliflozin reduced all-cause mortality. Oral semaglutide, empagliflozin, and liraglutide also reduced cardiovascular death. Odds of stroke were lower with subcutaneous semaglutide and dulaglutide. Sodium-glucose cotransporter-2 (SGLT-2) inhibitors reduced heart failure hospitalization and end-stage renal disease. Subcutaneous semaglutide and canagliflozin increased diabetic retinopathy and amputation, respectively.

Limitation: Inconsistent definitions of cardiovascular risk and low-level confidence in some estimates for patients at low cardiovascular risk.

Conclusion: In diabetic patients at low cardiovascular risk, no treatment differs from placebo for vascular outcomes. In patients at increased cardiovascular risk receiving metformin-based background therapy, specific GLP-1 RAs and SGLT-2 inhibitors have a favorable effect on certain cardiovascular outcomes.

Primary funding source: European Foundation for the Study of Diabetes, supported by an unrestricted educational grant from AstraZeneca. (PROSPERO: CRD42019122043).