Research brief: Association between diabetes medication and less severe cases of COVID-19

Dr. Carolyn Bramante. Credit: Getty Images and University of Minnesota.

MINNEAPOLIS/ST. PAUL (11/17/2022)Published in PLOS ONE, a study led by the University of Minnesota Medical School studied adults with type 2 diabetes who were taking metformin, a commonly prescribed diabetes medication. Researchers found an association with less severe cases of COVID-19 for those prescribed metformin. These findings were part of an observational study that analyzed electronic medical charts and compared adults who were taking either metformin, a sulfonylurea or a DPP-4 inhibitor.

"This study continues to provide justification for further research on metformin for COVID-19. We're fortunate to have biostatisticians and informatics experts in our Clinical and Translational Science Institute who are exceptional in observational analyses," said Carolyn Bramante, MD, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota Medical School and an internist and pediatrician with M Health Fairview. 

The study found that among adults with type 2 diabetes who were taking one oral medication for their condition, those taking metformin had a 45% lower risk of needing a breathing machine or dying from COVID-19 than similar individuals who were not taking metformin. Of the similar analyses that have been done, this study used a database large enough to allow a rigorous study of the utilization and effect of these drugs in a larger, well-defined population. The research team collaborated with national experts in pharmaco-epidemiology. 

These findings add to the growing body of data that suggests metformin reduces the severity of COVID-19. Dr. Bramante led the COVID-OUT trial, which published findings earlier this year that showed metformin lowers the odds of emergency department visits, hospitalizations or death due to COVID-19.

Some of this most recent data includes test-tube experiments in which metformin stopped the virus from multiplying. Researchers say metformin is safe, inexpensive and widely available, thus more clinical trials are warranted. 

Funding of the National COVID Cohort Collaborative (N3C) national database is from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences at the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Bramante was supported by the Minnesota Learning Health Systems grant and KL2 scholarship through the CTSI.

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About the University of Minnesota Medical School
The University of Minnesota Medical School is at the forefront of learning and discovery, transforming medical care and educating the next generation of physicians. Our graduates and faculty produce high-impact biomedical research and advance the practice of medicine. We acknowledge that the U of M Medical School, both the Twin Cities campus and Duluth campus, is located on traditional, ancestral and contemporary lands of the Dakota and the Ojibwe, and scores of other Indigenous people, and we affirm our commitment to tribal communities and their sovereignty as we seek to improve and strengthen our relations with tribal nations. For more information about the U of M Medical School, please visit med.umn.edu.

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