Once-a-week diabetes meds are similar in safety and effectiveness


There’s little difference in the performance of five new once-a-week drugs to treat diabetes when they’re compared to one another, though small differences in side effects emerge, according to a new review of existing evidence.

Past studies of the drugs known as glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor agonists – or GLP-1RAs – have found that the medications improve blood sugar control and reduce body weight, but the review’s lead author said no research had compared the various versions head-to-head.

“The main message is that today several drugs are available for the control of hyperglycemia in type 2 diabetes, as never before,” said Dr. Francesco Zaccardi, of the Diabetes Research Center at Leicester General Hospital in the U.K., “Therefore, it is even more important to know differences and similarities among drugs.”

In type 2 diabetes, the body can’t properly use or make enough of the hormone insulin to convert blood sugar into energy.

The drugs compared in the study – three of which are on the market, and two in development – stimulate insulin and have other beneficial effects like slowing digestion, the study team writes in Annals of Internal Medicine. All are taken once a week.

The American Diabetes Association and the European Association for the Study of Diabetes currently recommend GLP-1RAs as an option for people with type 2 diabetes who have tried other treatments like lifestyle changes and metformin, which is a longstanding oral drug used to improve blood sugar control.

For the new study, Zaccardi and colleagues analyzed data from 34 trials that included a total of 21,126 participants taking one of the five GLP-1RAs.

They found that the drugs performed similarly in reducing blood sugar, as well as heart disease risk factors like high blood pressure, cholesterol and inflammation. The risk of dangerous blood sugar lows known as hypoglycemia was also similar among people taking all five drugs.

The medications differed, however, when it came to reducing weight and HbA1c, which is a measure of average blood sugar levels over about three months.

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