Perspectives on open access from the 14th Annual Meeting of ISMPP

Tim Ellison

Open access publishing of medical research is increasingly prevalent, but open access terminology is varied and confusing. Gold, green, bronze, hybrid, CC BY, CC BY-NC – what does it all mean, and what is the best type of open access? At the 14th Annual Meeting of the International Society of Medical Publication Professionals, a panel of stakeholders in medical publications met to discuss open access from different perspectives.

There are many definitions of open access, but it is generally agreed that open access refers to online full-text peer-reviewed research articles that have been accepted for publication and are available:

  • to read immediately, without charge to end users
  • with varying restrictions on reuse of article content, as specified by the open access licence.

Open access advocacy communications, such as the Budapest Open Access Initiative, the Berlin Declaration and the Bethesda Statement, recommend that open access allows readers to reuse material without restrictions. Funders like the Wellcome Trust and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are following suit, requiring their grantees to publish with the least restrictive Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) licence. In the context of industry-funded medical research, ‘free to read’ access to publications is generally seen as beneficial; however, the views of stakeholders vary on the importance of reuse.

At the 14th Annual Meeting of the International Society for Medical Publication Professionals (ISMPP) held last month in Washington, a panel of open access experts from different fields gave their perspectives, answered questions from the audience and conducted live polls on open access. Taking part were:

  • LaVerne Mooney, Director of Publications at Pfizer Medical, moderating
  • Valerie Philippon, Senior Director & Global Head of Publications at Shire
  • David Sampson, Vice President and Publisher at at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO)
  • Maria Alu, Cardiology Publications Manager at Columbia University Irving Medical Center


What are the benefits of open access?

  • Transparency
    • Open access means that published research is ‘open’ to everyone.
  • Dissemination
    • Making a paper available for free at the time of publication increases both the speed of dissemination and the global reach of research.
  • Collaboration
    • The more people who have access to published research, the more likely they are to build collaborations that help to increase the speed of scientific discovery.
  • Innovation
    • Collaboration and the ability to reuse, adapt and build on research increases the likelihood of innovative research ideas.
  • Patient well-being
    • All of the above items ultimately speed up the rate of scientific research, which is good for all of us.
  • Avoids transfer of value for reprints
    • The 2010 Physician Payments Sunshine Act that requires the disclosure of payments to physicians means that pharmaceutical companies have to disclose ‘transfer of value’ for reprints of their published research; this would not be the case if an article is published open access.


Perspectives from a publisher

  • Of the five ASCO journals, one is a full open access journal and the other four are hybrid journals, meaning they allow authors the choice to pay an article processing charge (APC) for open access with a specific licence.
    • The cost of the APC is based on the type of reuse restrictions governed by the licence, the impact of the journal and the location of the corresponding author.
  • Open access journals are difficult to sustain – APCs do not necessarily cover the cost of article submission, processing and publishing.
    • The cost to sustain the ASCO full open access journal Journal of Global Oncology is subsidized by the other ASCO journals.
  • The Journal of Clinical Oncology does not currently allow commercially funded research to be published with an open access licence because the journal would lose revenue from reuse of content for commercial purposes and reprint sales
    • ASCO has since reviewed this policy and will now permit commercially funded research to be published open access under a CC BY-NC-ND (Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs) licence


Perspectives from an academic

  • Of the 50 most recent publications from Columbia University Medical Center, approximately 10% were published in full open access journals, 22% were published open access in hybrid journals, and most others were published with green open access after an embargo period.
  • There is a lack of consensus on open access between universities and
  • Columbia University was an early signatory to the Compact for Open Access Publishing Equity, meaning it is committed to funding open access costs when funding is not available elsewhere. However:
    • this funding has been rarely utilized because it cannot be used for hybrid journals, because the university is already paying for subscriptions to such journals
    • adoption of the policy varies by school within the university. For instance, the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons declined to endorse the statement.
      • Reported reasons include: perceptions that open access journals are not as good as journals with a high impact factor; the cost is deemed unnecessary; and the administrative burden of submitting to a green open access repository after an embargo period is challenging for already busy clinicians.
      • Minimizing the additional paperwork required (for example, most journals now offer automatic indexing to PubMed Central for National Institutes of Health-funded research after an embargo period) and/or shifting this responsibility to specialized university support staff (librarians or department-specific publications professionals) has improved compliance.


Perspectives from a pharmaceutical company

  • In January 2018, Shire launched its own open access policy that requires the submission of all Shire-supported clinical research manuscripts to journals that offer open access promptly following publication.
  • According to Shire’s policy,access does not have to be immediate, because this would preclude Shire-funded research from being published in many journals that do not offer immediate open access.
  • Shire now budgets $3000–5000 for APCs for each publication.


Perspectives from the ISMPP audience

  • A live audience poll at the end of the panel session highlighted that open access meant different things to different people.
    • Of the 274 people in the audience, 38% voted for ‘free to read’, 23% favoured ‘free to read and reuse non-commercially’, 24% preferred ‘free to read and share without restrictions’, and 12% selected ‘free to read, reuse and adapt without restrictions’.
    • These results suggest that education is needed to encourage people to use and communicate a common definition of open access
  • Unsurprisingly, because open access has multiple advantages and outcomes, the audience was also divided on the main benefit of open access, with similar proportions believing that speed of dissemination, access for non-academics and transparency were most important.
  • Most of the audience agreed that an APC of around $3000 is reasonable.


What next?

  • Will publishers review their open access options to allow reuse to commercially funded research?
  • Will more academic institutions commit to paying open access fees?
  • Will more research funders mandate open access publishing?
  • Will other pharmaceutical companies follow Shire in adopting an open access policy?

Time will tell how different stakeholders in medical publishing move towards open access. From 2017 and through 2018, the Open Pharma project has been bringing together pharma publications leaders, senior publishers and experts in various topics (including open access), and we plan to continue taking part in and facilitating this conversation. We may develop educational materials on open access, so we would be glad to hear what you need.


References and resources

 ISMPP members can access slides from the sessions at the ISMPP archive here:

The Budapest Open Access Initiative recommendations can be found here:

The Berlin Declaration is found here:

The Bathesda Statement is found here:

Open access policies from the Wellcome Trust, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Shire can be found at these links:

The Compact for Open Access Publishing Equity can be found here: