The Unauthorized Biography

Text Size:

Metformin makes it big

Once a small-town kid suspected of mischief, metformin is now embraced by the International Diabetes Federation, the American Diabetes Association (ADA), and the European Association for the Study of Diabetes as the first-line drug for type 2 diabetes. In fact, a few years ago the ADA dropped its long-standing recommendation to start type 2 diabetes treatment with just diet and exercise. Now the group recommends diet, exercise, and, when necessary, metformin.

So how did metformin achieve this career transformation? It wasn’t until the UK Prospective Diabetes Study (UKPDS) was released in 1998 that the floodgates of acceptance opened. The UKPDS gave American doctors solid clinical evidence of metformin’s effectiveness at both lowering blood glucose and improving cardiovascular outcomes, just at the time when medicine in the United States was moving to a more evidence-based framework. Metformin began to pick up speed, and it hasn’t really hit any stumbling blocks since then.

According to the IMS Health National Prescription Audit, roughly 80 million prescriptions for metformin were dispensed in the United States alone in 2015. If you’re wondering how 30.3 million people with diagnosed diabetes (in 2015) can use nearly three times as many prescriptions, it’s because each time someone refills a 30- or 90-day supply of metformin, it counts as one prescription. Still, that’s a lot of metformin. Even at a measly four bucks a pop, the drug grosses nearly half a billion dollars per year in the United States alone. And globally, metformin is the most widely prescribed diabetes drug. Its father, Dr. Sterne, would be proud.

Click on page 6, below, to learn about the combination of metformin with other medicines.

Originally Published June 4, 2013

Save Your Favorites

Save This Article