OBJECTIVE: To emulate the GRADE (Glycemia Reduction Approaches in Diabetes: A Comparative Effectiveness Study) trial using real world data before its publication. GRADE directly compared second line glucose lowering drugs for their ability to lower glycated hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c). DESIGN: Observational study. SETTING: OptumLabs® Data Warehouse (OLDW), a nationwide claims database in the US, 25 January 2010 to 30 June 2019. PARTICIPANTS: Adults with type 2 diabetes and HbA1c 6.8-8.5% while using metformin monotherapy, identified according to the GRADE trial specifications, who also used glimepiride, liraglutide, sitagliptin, or insulin glargine. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: The primary outcome was time to HbA1c ≥7.0%. Secondary outcomes were time to HbA1c >7.5%, incident microvascular complications, incident macrovascular complications, adverse events, all cause hospital admissions, and all cause mortality. Propensity scores were estimated using the gradient boosting machine method, and inverse propensity score weighting was used to emulate randomization of the treatment groups, which were then compared using Cox proportional hazards regression. RESULTS: 8252 people were identified (19.7% of adults starting the study drugs in OLDW) who met eligibility criteria for the GRADE trial (glimepiride arm=4318, liraglutide arm=690, sitagliptin arm=2993, glargine arm=251). The glargine arm was excluded from analyses owing to small sample size. Median times to HbA1c ≥7.0% were 442 days (95% confidence interval 394 to 480 days) for glimepiride, 764 (741 to not calculable) days for liraglutide, and 427 (380 to 483) days for sitagliptin. Liraglutide was associated with lower risk of reaching HbA1c ≥7.0% compared with glimepiride (hazard ratio 0.57, 95% confidence interval 0.43 to 0.75) and sitagliptin (0.55, 0.41 to 0.73). Results were consistent for the secondary outcome of time to HbA1c >7.5%. No significant differences were observed among treatment groups for the remaining secondary outcomes. CONCLUSIONS: In this emulation of the GRADE trial, liraglutide was statistically significantly more effective at maintaining glycemic control than glimepiride or sitagliptin when added to metformin monotherapy. Generating timely evidence on medical treatments using real world data as a complement to prospective trials is of value.
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