Pharma and Publishers Forum: an Open Pharma roundtable discussion on discoverability

Luke Bratton

On 24 June, representatives from publishing and pharma companies met online at the Open Pharma roundtable ‘Pharma and Publishers Forum’, chaired by Caroline Sutton of STM Publishing and Richard Smith, former editor of the BMJ and chief executive of the BMJ Publishing Group. The participants were divided into groups to discuss four major topics in open science: discoverability, data sharing, plain language summaries and open access. In this post, we look at the discussions about discoverability and highlight some of the challenges and solutions raised. Reports from each of the other discussions will be released in the coming weeks.

Key talking points

The discoverability of pharma research is very dependent on the systems and processes that are in place to help readers discover and make sense of the research literature and associated data. The use of metadata, indexing, content linking, search engine optimization and social media can increase discoverability, and pharma companies and publishers have an important role in these processes. However, the ability of pharma companies to engage in some of them is limited by legal and ethical considerations with regard to publicly sharing information about drug development and research outcomes.

Furthermore, while there are multiple approaches to improving the discoverability of published research, there is often little strong evidence to support the efficacy of different actions, or little utility to the intended audience.

Challenges and solutions

Can the research outputs of pharma companies reach a wider range of audiences?

Greater support of open access publishing by some of the more prominent and widely read journals is a clear path to improving access to publications. Direct promotion is another option. For example, some publishers use article recommendation engines, such as TrendMD, which offer sponsored opportunities that can help readers to find articles of interest. However, published research needs to be communicated in different ways to different audiences, some of whom may not be familiar with manuscripts and congress materials. Publication plain language summaries have been suggested as a way to help doctors as well as physicians discover research, the evidence on their value their value to different audiences is mostly anecdotal. Many clinicians use point-of-care apps and websites as sources of information, rather than referring to the original publications, but the sources used and their exact role is likely to vary among specialties. Material related to publications (e.g. plain language or video summaries), can be hosted on repositories such as figshare and Dryad, but at present there is no consistent or clear way to link them to the original publications or ensure peer review.

Can research outputs be better optimized for search engines?

Search engines are the most common way for users to discover research outputs. There is, however, only a limited opportunity for authors to optimize their articles for search engines without impacting readability. One simple step is to ensure that keywords are carefully chosen and provided during submission.

Can we use article-level metrics to evaluate the effectiveness of publications?

Despite the persistent use of journal impact factor as a measure of the success of published articles, article-level metrics from providers such as Altmetric and PlumX have been gaining attention. These metrics can help authors gain more direct insights into the reach and impact of their work. However, current systems are limited by what can be measured across different publishers. Key metrics, such as views and downloads or sharing on closed platforms such as LinkedIn, are not available. Furthermore, interactions with enhancements are rarely reported as metrics, leading to difficulties in understanding their value and role in increasing discoverability.