Once-Weekly Insulin Promising in Phase 3 Trial in Type 2 Diabetes

Miriam E. Tucker

September 29, 2022

STOCKHOLM, Sweden — The investigational once-weekly insulin icodec (Novo Nordisk) significantly reduces A1c without increasing hypoglycemia in people with type 2 diabetes, the first Phase 3 data of such an insulin formulation suggest. The data are from one of six trials in the company's ONWARDS program.

"Once-weekly insulin may redefine diabetes management," enthused Athena Philis-Tsimikas, MD, who presented the findings at a session during the European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD) 2022 Annual Meeting, which also included a summary of previously reported top-line data from other ONWARDS trials as well as phase 2 data for Lilly's investigational once-weekly Basal Insulin Fc (BIF).

Phase 2 data for icodec were published in 2020 in the New England Journal of Medicine and in 2021 in Diabetes Care, as reported by Medscape Medical News.

The capacity for reducing the number of basal insulin injections from at least 365 to just 52 per year means that once-weekly insulin "has the potential to facilitate insulin initiation and improve treatment adherence and persistence in diabetes," noted Philis-Tsimikas, corporate vice president of Scripps Whittier Diabetes Institute, San Diego, California.

Asked to comment, independent diabetes industry consultant Charles Alexander, MD, told Medscape Medical News that the new data from ONWARDS 2 of patients switching from daily to once-weekly basal insulin were reassuring with regard to hypoglycemia, at least for people with type 2 diabetes.

"For type 2, I think there's enough data now to feel comfortable that it's going to be good, especially for people who are on once-weekly [glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) agonists]."

However, for type 1 diabetes, the company reported top-line ONWARDS 6 data earlier this year, in which icodec was associated with significantly increased rates of hypoglycemia compared with daily degludec. "In type 1, even the basal needs are [often] changing. That kind of person would want to stay away from once-weekly insulin," Alexander said.

And he noted, for any patient who adjusts their insulin dose frequently, "obviously, you're not going to be able to do that with a once-weekly."

Similar A1c Reduction as Daily Basal Without Increased Hypoglycemia

In ONWARDS 2, 526 adults with type 2 diabetes were randomized to switch from their current once- or twice-daily basal insulin to either once-weekly icodec or once-daily insulin degludec (Tresiba) for 26 weeks. The study was open-label, with a treat-to-glucose target of 80-130 mg/dL design.

Participants had A1c levels of 7.0%-10.0% and were also taking stable doses of other noninsulin glucose-lowering medications. Over 80% were taking metformin, a third were taking an SGLT2 inhibitor, and about a quarter each were taking a GLP-1 agonist or DPP-4 inhibitor. Those medications were continued, but sulfonylureas were discontinued in the 22% taking those at baseline.

The basal insulin used at baseline was glargine U100 for 42%, degludec for 28%, and glargine U300 for 16%," so, a very typical presentation of patients we see in our practices today," Philis-Tsimikas noted.

The primary endpoint, change in A1c from baseline to week 26, dropped from 8.17% to 7.20% with icodec and from 8.10% to 7.42% with degludec. The estimated treatment difference of –0.22 percentage points met the margins for both non-inferiority (P < .0001) and superiority (P = .0028). Those taking icodec were significantly more likely to achieve an A1c < 7% compared with degludec, at 40.3% versus 26.5% (P = .0019).

Continuous glucose monitoring parameters during weeks 22-26 showed time in glucose range of 70-180 mg/dL (3.9-10.0 mmol/L) was 63.1% for icodec and 59.5% for degludec, which was not significantly different, Philis-Tsimikas reported.

Body weight increased by 1.4 kg (3 lb) with icodec but dropped slightly by 0.30 kg with degludec, which was significantly different (P < .001).

When asked about the body weight results, Alexander said: "It's really hard to say. We know that insulin generally causes weight gain. A 1.4-kg weight gain over 6 months isn't really surprising. Why there wasn't with degludec, I don't know."

There was just one episode of severe hypoglycemia (requiring assistance) in the trial in the degludec group. Rates of combined severe or clinically significant hypoglycemic events (glucose < 54 mg/dL / <3.0 mmol/L) per patient-year exposed were 0.73 for icodec versus 0.27 for degludec, which was not significantly different (P = .0782). Similar findings were seen for nocturnal hypoglycemia.

Significantly more patients achieved an A1c < 7% without significant hypoglycemia with icodec than degludec, at 36.7% versus 26.8% (P = .0223). Other adverse events were equivalent between the two groups, Philis-Tsimikas reported.

Scores on the diabetes treatment satisfaction questionnaire, which addresses convenience, flexibility, satisfaction, and willingness to recommend treatment to others, were significantly higher for icodec than degludec, at 4.22 versus 2.96 (P = .0036).

"For me, this is one of the most important outcomes," she commented.  

Benefit in Type 2 Diabetes, Potential Concern in Type 1 Diabetes

Top-line results from ONWARDS 1, a phase 3a 78-week trial in 984 drug-naive people with type 2 diabetes and ONWARDS 6, a 52-week trial in 583 people with type 1 diabetes, were presented earlier this year at the American Diabetes Association (ADA) 81st Scientific Sessions.

In ONWARDS 1, icodec achieved noninferiority to daily insulin glargine, reducing A1c by 1.55 versus 1.35 percentage points, with superior time in range and no significant differences in hypoglycemia rates.

However, in ONWARDS 6, while noninferiority in A1c lowering compared with daily degludec was achieved, with reductions of 0.47 versus 0.51 percentage points from a baseline A1c of 7.6%, there was a significantly greater rate of severe or clinically significant hypoglycemia with icodec, at 19.93 versus 10.37 events per patient-year with degludec.

Philis-Tsimikas has reported performing research and serving as an advisor on behalf of her employer for Abbott, Bayer, Dexcom, Eli Lilly, Medtronic, Merck, Novo Nordisk, and Sanofi. All reimbursements go to her employer. Alexander has reported being a nonpaid advisor for diaTribe and a consultant for Kinexum

EASD 2022. Presented September 22 during a symposium.

Miriam E. Tucker is a freelance journalist based in the Washington, DC, area. She is a regular contributor to Medscape, with other work appearing in The Washington Post, NPR's Shots blog, and Diabetes Forecast magazine. She is on Twitter: @MiriamETucker.

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