Image of a clinician advising a patient about diabetes care.

Two popular drugs used to treat type 2 diabetes outperformed other medications in managing glucose levels and keeping people healthy, according to new research funded by the National Institutes of Health.

In a large clinical trial, the NIH found that glargine and liraglutide performed the best of four medications approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to maintain blood glucose levels in the recommended range for people with type 2 diabetes. All four medications were evaluated in combination with metformin, which is the first-line drug to treat type 2 diabetes.

The study evaluated 5,047 people with type 2 diabetes from different racial and ethnic groups who were already taking metformin and separated them into four treatment groups to test the effectiveness of the different medications.  The randomized trial found that that over a four-year period, participants taking metformin plus liraglutide or insulin glargine achieved and maintained target blood levels for a longer period of time compared to those who used sitagliptin or glimepiride, the two other drugs that were studied.

“All four medications, when added to metformin, decreased glycated hemoglobin levels. However, glargine and liraglutide were significantly, albeit modestly, more effective in achieving and maintaining target glycated hemoglobin levels,” the study concluded.

The Glycemia Reduction Approaches in Diabetes: A Comparative Effectiveness (GRADE) study was funded by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health. Results of the study appeared in the Sept. 22 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

“This study was designed to provide healthcare providers with important information on how to guide the long-term management of type 2 diabetes,” said Henry Burch, MD, NIDDK’s project scientist for GRADE, in an NIH news release. “This is an integral step toward precision medicine for diabetes care, as these results can now be used in the decision-making process for each individual patient in light of their levels of glucose control, how well the medications are tolerated, and the person’s other health considerations.”