Type 2 Diabetes Drug Semaglutide May Help Control Blood Sugar Better Than Similar Medications, Review Suggests

In the review, semaglutide, which is sold under the brand name Ozempic, also helped people with type 2 diabetes lose weight and lower their blood pressure.

A review analyzing data from 13 studies suggests that the drug semaglutide helps people with type 2 diabetes better control their blood glucose compared with a number of medications.

The medication, which also helps people lose weight, is another option for adults with type 2 diabetes who have difficulty controlling their A1C level with other diabetes medication, says Panagiotis Andreadis, MD, the lead author of the study and a postgraduate researcher in the clinical research and evidence-based medicine unit of Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece. A1C is a two- to three-month average of blood sugar levels, and doctors use the measure to tell how well a person with diabetes is controlling their blood sugar.

“At present, metformin remains the optimal medication choice for initiating treatment in patients with type 2 diabetes,” Dr. Andreadis says. “Semaglutide could be used as an add-on in patients inadequately controlled with oral agents, with or without insulin, especially those whose priority is weight loss.”

Semaglutide, which is sold under the brand name Ozempic, was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in December 2017. The medication, a once-weekly injection, is known as a long-acting glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) receptor agonist.

“That means it mimics the action of naturally occurring glucagon peptide-1. But what we make in the body is very short-acting,” says Patrick O’Neil, PhD, director of the Weight Management Center at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, who has studied semaglutide and weight loss. Dr. O’Neil was not involved in the new study.

A Closer Look at How Researchers Studied Semaglutide

For the study, published in May in the journal Diabetes, Obesity, and Metabolism, researchers  analyzed information from randomized, controlled studies comparing semaglutide with a placebo or other diabetes medications. They explored how well the medication controlled blood glucose, as well as any changes in participants’ body weight, blood pressure, and heart rate. The analysis also looked at whether participants developed low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) or had any side effects related to the medications.

The researchers found that semaglutide at dosages of either 0.5 or 1 milligram (mg) significantly lowered blood sugar levels compared with a placebo. Moreover, at either dose, semaglutide was more effective at controlling blood sugar levels compared with other diabetes drugs, including Januvia (sitagliptin), Bydureon (exenatide), Victoza (liraglutide), dulaglutide (Trulicity), and Lantus (insulin glargine).

Based on these studies, semaglutide seems more effective in reducing blood glucose and body weight compared with Bydureon and Trulicity, and it is at least as effective as Victoza, Andreadis says.

An earlier study on the medication, called SUSTAIN-6, which was published in November 2016 in The New England Journal of Medicine, suggested that semaglutide also lowered the risk of nonfatal heart attack and stroke in people with established cardiovascular disease, he adds.

Semaglutide was effective in lowering body weight, too. Participants on semaglutide lost an average of about nine pounds compared with those on a placebo medication, and they experienced improved blood pressure. But some side effects were more prominent among people taking semaglutide versus other medications, including nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

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