Diabetes Drug Reduces Risk of Death from Cardiovascular Issues

Liraglutide found to lower the overall risk of stroke and heart attack.

A type 2 diabetes drug lowers the overall risk of a stroke, heart attack, and cardiovascular-related death, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found.

Liraglutide is a GLP-1 agonist that works in the pancreas to stimulate insulin secretion and reduces the production of glucagon. It also works in the brain to reduce appetite and increase satiety.

Although this drug is intended for type 2 diabetes, findings from the global clinical trial Liraglutide Effect and Action in Diabetes Evaluation of Cardiovascular Outcome Results (LEADER) showed that the drug safely and effectively decreased the risk of cardiovascular disease.

LEADER is a worldwide study that included 700 institutions in 32 countries, marking the first time a diabetes drug that lowers blood sugar showed broad benefits for diabetes patients.

“I've been excited about liraglutide for a long time because I think it's unique,” said senior study author John Buse, MD, PhD. “This is the first diabetes drug that has shown across-the-board benefits for cardiovascular diseases, and this suggests it plays a role in treating atherosclerosis, which is what leads to heart attacks and strokes.”

The 3-year, randomized, double-blind study enrolled 9340 adults with type 2 diabetes who had a high risk of heart disease. Approximately half of the patients received liraglutide, while the other half received a placebo, defined as patients having the ability to take other diabetes medications.

Patients in both groups with associated health issues such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure were administered the appropriate medications.

The results of the study showed that patients had a 13% lower overall risk of having a stroke or heart attack, or dying from cardiovascular issues. There was also a 22% lower risk of cardiovascular mortality, 15% lower risk of all-cause mortality, and 22% lower risk of new evidence of advanced kidney disease.

“This changes the whole conversation about treating diabetes,” Buse said. “To date, people have taken diabetes drugs to lower blood sugar. Now we can say that they should take liraglutide to prevent or delay the worst things that occur commonly in diabetes: heart attacks, strokes, advanced kidney disease, and death.

“As more medications to treat type 2 diabetes come on the market, these sorts of clinical trials are invaluable measures of a drug's true benefit or lack thereof,” Buse continued. “Right now, liraglutide is clearly showing it is one of the best second-line therapies available. Yet, it would be best if we could reduce the burden of this disease with preventive measures, which is why early screening and interventions remain incredibly important.”