Diabetes medications and associations with Covid-19 outcomes in the N3C database: A national retrospective cohort study

PLoS One. 2022 Nov 17;17(11):e0271574. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0271574. eCollection 2022.


Background: While vaccination is the most important way to combat the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, there may still be a need for early outpatient treatment that is safe, inexpensive, and currently widely available in parts of the world that do not have access to the vaccine. There are in-silico, in-vitro, and in-tissue data suggesting that metformin inhibits the viral life cycle, as well as observational data suggesting that metformin use before infection with SARS-CoV2 is associated with less severe COVID-19. Previous observational analyses from single-center cohorts have been limited by size.

Methods: Conducted a retrospective cohort analysis in adults with type 2 diabetes (T2DM) for associations between metformin use and COVID-19 outcomes with an active comparator design of prevalent users of therapeutically equivalent diabetes monotherapy: metformin versus dipeptidyl-peptidase-4-inhibitors (DPP4i) and sulfonylureas (SU). This took place in the National COVID Cohort Collaborative (N3C) longitudinal U.S. cohort of adults with +SARS-CoV-2 result between January 1 2020 to June 1 2021. Findings included hospitalization or ventilation or mortality from COVID-19. Back pain was assessed as a negative control outcome.

Results: 6,626 adults with T2DM and +SARS-CoV-2 from 36 sites. Mean age was 60.7 +/- 12.0 years; 48.7% male; 56.7% White, 21.9% Black, 3.5% Asian, and 16.7% Latinx. Mean BMI was 34.1 +/- 7.8kg/m2. Overall 14.5% of the sample was hospitalized; 1.5% received mechanical ventilation; and 1.8% died. In adjusted outcomes, compared to DPP4i, metformin had non-significant associations with reduced need for ventilation (RR 0.68, 0.32-1.44), and mortality (RR 0.82, 0.41-1.64). Compared to SU, metformin was associated with a lower risk of ventilation (RR 0.5, 95% CI 0.28-0.98, p = 0.044) and mortality (RR 0.56, 95%CI 0.33-0.97, p = 0.037). There was no difference in unadjusted or adjusted results of the negative control.

Conclusions: There were clinically significant associations between metformin use and less severe COVID-19 compared to SU, but not compared to DPP4i. New-user studies and randomized trials are needed to assess early outpatient treatment and post-exposure prophylaxis with therapeutics that are safe in adults, children, pregnancy and available worldwide.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • COVID-19 Drug Treatment*
  • Child
  • Cohort Studies
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2* / complications
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2* / drug therapy
  • Dipeptidyl-Peptidase IV Inhibitors* / therapeutic use
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypoglycemic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Male
  • Metformin* / therapeutic use
  • Middle Aged
  • RNA, Viral / therapeutic use
  • Retrospective Studies
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Sulfonylurea Compounds / therapeutic use
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Hypoglycemic Agents
  • RNA, Viral
  • Sulfonylurea Compounds
  • Dipeptidyl-Peptidase IV Inhibitors
  • Metformin