Publishing open access saves lives: policies and barriers

Adeline Rosenberg

How have policies and mandates helped shape open access publishing, and what barriers exist that slow their implementation?

Providing policies and guidance on open access publishing at the funder level is important for ensuring consistency and enabling researchers to take the necessary steps towards open access. Many charitable foundations, state-funded sponsors and academic institutions are already setting a precedent by putting such processes in place. Among pharmaceutical companies, Shire (now part of Takeda) was the first company to introduce a commitment in 2018 to ensure that all its publications are published open access, followed by Ipsen in 2019 and Galápagos in 2020. However, this approach hasn’t been broadly adopted by pharmaceutical companies yet.

While a lot of publication professionals are interested in open access, certain complexities in pharmaceutical organizations are often a barrier to wider implementation – most have multiple business units or affiliations in different countries, all of which have slightly different processes. Publishers often have different rules depending on if research is funded by charitable foundations and academic institutions versus pharma companies. Additionally, some publishers’ websites may be unclear about their open access policies and copyright licences. Add to this the cost of open access publishing, and there are a lot of moving parts. Wiley takes the view that pharma-funded content should be treated in the same way as any other content and that publishers should allow pharmaceutical companies to publish open access. Unfortunately, this view is not shared by all publishers, and many still charge a premium for pharma-funded and/or pharma-authored research.

Many publishers also express concerns relating to academic freedom; it is important to ensure that open access policies include broad definitions of open access and are providing a balance between standardizing processes and allowing flexibility. While industry guidelines have emphasized that authors should have the freedom to choose whichever journal they prefer, it does not seem unreasonable for pharmaceutical companies to put in place guidelines and criteria for authors to follow: for example, that the journal should not be predatory, or that the journal should allow open access. Pharmaceutical company experience shows that open access policies can be constructed in a way that maximizes authors’ choice of journals, and that authors – who are already used to working with open access mandates from government funders and non-governmental organizations – understand and support the adoption of such mandates from commercial organizations.

This blog post was adapted from the multi-stakeholder panel discussion featuring Peter Llewellyn (NetworkPharma and MedComms Networking), Chris Winchester (Oxford PharmaGenesis and Open Pharma), Valérie Philippon (Takeda), Gavin Sharrock (Wiley) and Durhane Wong-Rieger (Canadian Organization for Rare Disorders), and reflects the views of the individuals, not those of their respective companies. A recording of the discussion is available on demand for free at and on YouTube.

If you’re interested in joining the open access movement or learning more about it, you can read and endorse the Open Pharma position statement here.