Accumulating evidence indicates anti-diabetic drug metformin has anti-cancer effect by controlling cancer metabolism. We evaluated whether addition of metformin to chemotherapy improved survival of lung cancer patients.
This randomized phase II study enrolled 164 patients with chemo-native, EGFR-ALK wild-type, stage IIIB/IV non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Patients were randomized to receive chemotherapy either with metformin (1000 mg twice daily) or alone every 3 weeks for six cycles. The patients received gemcitabine (1000 mg/m) on days 1 and 8 and carboplatin (5 area under the curve) on day 1. Exploratory studies included serum metabolic panels, positron-emission tomography (PET) imaging, and genetic mutation tests for metabolism-related genes.
Metformin group showed no significant difference in the risk of progression and death compared to control group (progression: hazard ratio [HR] = 1.01 [95% confidence interval (CI) = 0.72 – 1.42], P = 0.935; death: HR = 0.95 [95% CI = 0.67-1.34], P = 0.757). Squamous cell carcinoma (SqCC) had significantly higher fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG) uptake on baseline PET image than non-SqCC NSCLC (P = 0.004). In the SqCC with high FDG uptake, the addition of metformin significantly decreased the risk of progression and death (progression: HR = 0.31 [95% CI = 0.12-0.78], P = 0.013; death: HR = 0.42 [95% CI = 0.18-0.94], P = 0.035). The HDL-cholesterol level was significantly increased after the treatment in metformin group compared to control group (P = 0.011). The metformin group showed no survival benefit in the patients with hyperinsulinemia or patients whose insulin level was decreased after treatment.
Addition of metformin to chemotherapy provided no survival benefit in unselected NSCLC patients. However, it significantly improved the survival of the selected patients with SqCC showing high FDG uptake. It suggests metformin shows the synergistic anti-tumor effect in the tumor which are highly dependent on glucose metabolism.

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