Clinical potential of treatment with semaglutide in type 2 diabetes patients

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Glucagon-like receptor agonists (GLP-1RAs) are included in current national and international guidelines as second-line treatment especially in patients with type 2 diabetes and concomitant cardiovascular disease (CVD). First-generation GLP-1RAs were two- or once-daily injectables, but longeracting GLP-1RAs have now been developed for onceweekly administration – e.g., exenatide ER, dulaglutide and semaglutide. With semaglutide, the same prolongation principle as designed in liraglutide is used (spacer and fatty acid chain). However, the similarity to endogenous human GLP-1 is well preserved, sharing 94% homology. It is administered with a simple device and without resuspension before use. The efficacy and safety of semaglutide have been investigated in an extensive clinical development program including more than 9,000 patients with type 2 diabetes. Semaglutide has been compared head-to-head with a dipeptidyl peptidase-4 (DPP4)-inhibitor, GLP-1RAs and basal insulin. Further head-to-head studies are awaiting that compare semaglutide against a sodium-dependent-glucose transporter-2 (SGLT2)-inhibitor. In these studies, semaglutide was found to provide significant and clinically relevant reductions in HbA1c, fasting plasma glucose (FPG), glucose excursions, body weight and blood pressure. The reduction in glycaemic parameters was more pronounced than that in the comparator GLP-1RAs. The rate of hypoglycemia is very low during treatment with semaglutide if not combined with sulphonylureas or insulin. A cardiovascular outcome trial (CVOT) was performed before the approval of semaglutide, at the request of legal authorities. Not only non-inferiority was confirmed, but also superiority compared with placebo used in a population of patients with type 2 diabetes and CVD treated with oral antihyperglycaemic drugs (OADs) and/ or insulin with regard to the primary composite endpoint: death from cardiovascular (CV) causes, nonfatal myocardial infarction or nonfatal stroke. The safety of treatment with semaglutide in patients with type 2 diabetes has been extensively investigated. Overall, gastrointestinal side effects dominate, as observed with other GLP-1RAs, and was observed in the same range as for comparator GLP-1RAs. As observed with other GLP-1RAs, side effects such as nausea and vomiting diminished over time during continuous treatment. Regarding microvascular complications, an unexpected increase in diabetes-related retinopathy was observed in the CVOT; Semaglutide Unabated Sustainability in Treatment of Type 2 diabetes’ [SUSTAIN 6]), but not in other studies. The reason for this increase is not finally elucidated, but may be due to a nonspecific effect of a rapid decrease in glycaemic parameters in patients with preexisting retinopathy with high HbA1c at the start of the treatment. There is currently a warning in the Summary of Product Characteristics (SmPC) for semaglutide concerning treatment in patients with preexisting retinopathy. Further studies are needed to clarify this.

Keywords: cardiovascular disease, GLP-1, semaglutide, SUSTAIN, type 2 diabetes.

Citation: Røder ME. Clinical potential of treatment with semaglutide in type 2 diabetes patients. Drugs in Context 2019; 8: 212585. DOI: 10.7573/dic.212585

Contributions: The author meets the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) criteria for authorship for this article, takes responsibility for the integrity of the work as a whole, and has given his approval for this version to be published.

Disclosure and potential conflicts of interest: The author declares that they have no conflicts of interest. The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) Potential Conflicts of Interests form for the authors is available for download at

Acknowledgments: None.

Funding declaration: There was no funding associated with the preparation of this article.

Copyright: Copyright © 2019 Røder ME. Published by Drugs in Context under Creative Commons License Deed CC BY NC ND 4.0 which allows anyone to copy, distribute, and transmit the article provided it is properly attributed in the manner specified below. No commercial use without permission.

Correct attribution: Copyright © 2019 Røder ME. Published by Drugs in Context under Creative Commons License Deed CC BY NC ND 4.0.

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Correspondence: Michael E Røder, Head of Clinic, Associate Professor, Steno Diabetes Center Odense, Odense University Hospital, Denmark.

Provenance: invited; externally peer reviewed.

Submitted: 8 March 2019; Peer review comments to author: 16 April 2019; Revised manuscript received: 24 September 2019; Accepted: 26 September 2019; Publication date: 2 December 2019.

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