Most treatment guidelines, including those from the American Diabetes Association/European Association for the Study of Diabetes and the International Diabetes Federation, suggest metformin be used as the first-line therapy after diet and exercise. This recommendation is based on the considerable body of evidence that has accumulated over the last 30 years, but it is also supported on clinical grounds based on metformin’s affordability and tolerability. As such, metformin is the most commonly used oral antihyperglycemic agent in the U.S. However, based on the release of newer agents over the recent past, some have suggested that the modern approach to disease management should be based upon identification of its etiology and correcting the underlying biological disturbances. That is, we should use interventions that normalize or at least ameliorate the recognized derangements in physiology that drive the clinical manifestation of disease, in this circumstance, hyperglycemia. Thus, it is argued that therapeutic interventions that target glycemia but do not correct the underlying pathogenic disturbances are unlikely to result in a sustained benefit on the disease process. In our field, there is an evolving debate regarding the suggested first step in diabetes management and a call for a new paradigm. Given the current controversy, we provide a Point-Counterpoint debate on this issue. In the point narrative below that precedes the counterpoint narrative, Drs. Abdul-Ghani and DeFronzo provide their argument that a treatment approach for type 2 diabetes based upon correcting the underlying pathophysiological abnormalities responsible for the development of hyperglycemia provides the best therapeutic strategy. Such an approach requires a change in the recommendation for first-line therapy from metformin to a GLP-1 receptor agonist. In the counterpoint narrative that follows Drs. Abdul-Ghani and DeFronzo’s contribution, Dr. Inzucchi argues that, based on the medical community’s extensive experience and the drug’s demonstrated efficacy, safety, low cost, and cardiovascular benefits, metformin should remain the "foundation therapy" for all patients with type 2 diabetes, barring contraindications.
—William T. Cefalu
Chief Scientific, Medical & Mission Officer, American Diabetes Association