INTRODUCTION: Glucagon-like peptide 1 receptor agonists (GLP1RAs) are licensed for the treatment of type 2 diabetes (T2D). They have been shown to be safe (from the cardiovascular (CV) perspective) and effective (in terms of glycaemia, and in some cases, reducing CV events) in extensive randomised controlled trials (RCTs). However, there remain concerns regarding the generalisability of these findings (to those ineligible for RCT participation) and about non-CV safety. For effectiveness, population-based pharmacoepidemiology studies can confirm and extend the findings of RCTs findings to broader populations and explore safety, for which RCTs are not usually powered, in more detail.
METHOD: We did a pre-planned and registered (PROSPERO registration CRD42020165720) systematic review of population-based studies investigating GLP1RA effectiveness and safety, following Meta-analyses Of Observational Studies in Epidemiology (MOOSE) guidelines.
RESULTS: A total of 22 studies were identified (including 200,148 participants and 396,457 person-years of follow-up) exploring exposure to GLP1RA class, exenatide and liraglutide (the only individual drugs with treatment effect estimates identified) on mortality, cardiovascular disease (CVD), acute pancreatitis (AP), pancreatic cancer (PC), thyroid cancer (TC), acute renal failure (ARF), diabetic retinopathy (DR), breast cancer (BC) and hypoglycaemia. For CV and mortality outcomes, studies confirmed the associated safety of these drugs. For liraglutide, point estimate (PE) range (PER) major adverse cardiovascular events (MACE) (0.53-0.95) and PER heart failure (0.34-1.22) were similar in direction to the beneficial effect observed in RCTs for MACE but varied widely for heart failure. For safety outcomes, exposure was not associated with AP (PER 0.50-1.17), PC (PER 0.40-1.54), BC (PER 0.90-1.51) or hypoglycaemia (PER 0.59-1.06). Only one study was identified exploring each of TC (no evidence of association, hazard ratio (HR) 1.46, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.98-2.19), renal outcomes (no evidence of association, HR 0.77, 95% CI 0.42-1.41) and DR (no evidence of association, HR 0.67, 95% CI 0.51-0.90).
CONCLUSION: In T2D, GLP1RAs appear safe from the CV perspective and (for liraglutide) may have associated benefit in primary as well as secondary CVD prevention. For non-CV safety, GLP1RA exposure was not associated with an increased risk of AP, PC, BC or hypoglycaemia; the other outcomes had too few studies to draw firm conclusions and should be explored further.