Could metformin benefit glucocorticoid-treated patients?

  • Pernicova I & al.
  • Lancet Diabetes Endocrinol
  • 25/02/2020

  • Miriam Tucker
  • Clinical Essentials
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  • Metformin improved some metabolic parameters and clinical outcomes for glucocorticoid-treated patients with inflammatory disease.
  • Metformin did not affect visceral-to-subcutaneous fat area ratio.

Why this matters

  • Long-term glucocorticoids are prescribed for ≤3% of European adults.
  • Chronic glucocorticoid exposure can raise metabolic, infectious, and cardiovascular risks.

Study design

  • Randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, proof-of-concept, 12-week phase 2 trial of 53 adults without diabetes and with inflammatory disease treated with continuous prednisolone (≥20 mg/day for ≥4 weeks, ≥10 mg/day for subsequent ≥12 weeks, or cumulative dose-equivalent) randomly allocated to metformin (titrated up to 850 mg 3 times a day) vs placebo.
  • Funding: Barts Charity, Merck Serono.

Key results

  • No change in the primary outcome: visceral-to-subcutaneous fat area ratio over 12 weeks (0.11; P=.09).
  • Facial adiposity observed in 10% of metformin vs 52% of placebo groups (P=.007).
  • Dysglycemia present in 0% of metformin vs 33% of placebo groups (P=.009).
  • Metformin improved insulin resistance, β-cell function, liver function, fibrinolysis, carotid intima-media thickness, inflammatory parameters, and disease activity severity markers.
  • Metformin was associated with lower incidences of pneumonia (1 vs 7; P=.01), moderate-severe infections (2 vs 11; P=.001), and all-cause hospitalizations for adverse events (1 vs 9; P=.001).
  • More diarrhea with metformin (18 vs 8 events; P=.01).


  • Small sample size.
  • Patient heterogeneity.
  • Relatively short treatment duration.
  • Possible selection bias.