Patients with type 2 diabetes treated with the SGLT2 inhibitor empagliflozin during the landmark EMPA-REG OUTCOME trial had a solidly reduced need to either start insulin treatment or intensify existing insulin treatment, compared with those given placebo, in a post-hoc analysis of the study’s findings.
“Empagliflozin markedly and durably delayed the need for insulin initiation, and reduced the need for large dose increases in patients already using insulin,”, said at the virtual annual scientific sessions of the American Diabetes Association.
The patients in the empagliflozin (Jardiance) arm of EMPA-REG OUTCOME had a 9% rate of initiating insulin treatment after 4 years in the study, compared with a 20% rate among patients who received placebo, a statistically significant 60% relative risk reduction. All patients in the trial continued on their background oral glucose-lowering medications.
Among the 48% of study patients who entered the study already using insulin as part of their usual regimen, 18% of those receiving empagliflozin required a significant increase in their insulin dosage (an increase of at least 20% from baseline) after 4 years. But among the control patients, 35% needed this level of insulin-dosage intensification, again a statistically significant difference that computed to a 58% relative reduction in the need for boosting the insulin dosage.
For both of these endpoints, the divergence between the empagliflozin and control arms became apparent within the first 6 months on treatment, and the between-group differences steadily increased during further follow-up. The analyses pooled the patients who received empagliflozin in the trial, which studied two different dosages of the drug.
Results add to the ‘risk and benefit conversation’
“This is one of the first studies to look at this question in a more granular fashion” in patients with type 2 diabetes receiving a drug from the sodium-glucose cotransporter 2 (SGLT2) inhibitor class, said Dr. Vaduganathan, a cardiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. It provides “compelling” information to include when discussing oral diabetes-drug options with patients, he said in an interview.
Patients newly diagnosed with type 2 diabetes “often think about insulin” and their potential need to eventually start taking it, with the requirements it brings for training, monitoring, and drug delivery, along with the costs for insulin and glucose monitoring. “Patients are very attuned to potentially needing insulin and often ask about it. A reduced need for insulin will be an important part of the risk and benefit conversation” with patients about potential use of an SGLT2 inhibitor, he said.
Dr. Vaduganathan hypothesized that three factors could contribute to the impact of empagliflozin on insulin initiation and dosage level: a direct glycemic-control effect of the drug, the drug’s positive impact on overall well-being and function that could enhance patient movement, and the documented ability of treatment with empagliflozin and other drugs in its class to cut the rate of heart failure hospitalizations. This last feature is potentially relevant because insulin treatment often starts in patients with type 2 diabetes during a hospitalization, he noted.