“Pharma are doing ok in terms of open access, but they could be doing more” – insights from the Open Pharma June roundtable meeting

Steph Macdonald

Open Pharma Members, Supporters and key Advisers came together to discuss the ways in which the scientific publishing community can make research accessible, discoverable and transparent for patients and the public.

Many organizations are working towards the same goals in terms of transparency, discoverability, accessibility and accountability in scientific publishing, but wouldn’t it be better if these goals were aligned? On 15 June 2020, Open Pharma brought together the different stakeholders in academic publishing for a virtual roundtable meeting with the aim of coordinating their approach to open access models and enhanced content for scientific publications. Following a recap of the January roundtable meeting, attendees discussed the benefits of open access mandates for pharma. A clear definition of what open access is, with regards to Creative Commons licences and publishing embargoes, and a strong communications plan were both shown to be key to the successful implementation of a mandatory open access policy.

Of course, for pharma, mandatory open access policies can restrict the author’s choice of where to publish, as some journals do not offer authors of pharma-funded studies the same open access rights as authors whose research is funded by other sources. The Open Pharma position statement on open access calls for journals and publishers to allow the former the same rights as the latter, in order to ensure that peer-reviewed information of the highest quality is available to anyone, anywhere in the world. In the 9 months since its launch, the position statement has gained over 150 endorsements, including eight publisher and 29 company endorsements.

In the past, patients were routinely excluded from the open access debate because they were not considered to be ‘end users’ of research. Nowadays, not only do patients participate at each stage of the research life cycle, from clinical trial design to establishing patient-reported outcome measurements, they are also increasingly involved in the creation and curation of scientific literature. Nevertheless, patients are allowed access to only 25% of published clinical research. Even when patients can access full-text articles, the content is not engaging or understandable. Plain language summaries (PLSs) are ideal for communicating research to patients and the public in a concise, accurate and understandable way. Several pharma companies are exploring the use of PLSs alongside conference proceedings and peer-reviewed publications. Submitting a PLS alongside the corresponding article enables both to undergo independent peer review, thus ensuring regulatory compliance.

It’s not only the patient movement that’s changing how science is communicated; circumstances play a major role too. The 2019 novel coronavirus pandemic has revolutionized the way in which research data are disseminated. Preprints have significantly contributed to ensuring the rapid dissemination of research, with the evolutionary genome sequence of SARS-CoV-2 published on the HealthScience preprint server medRxiv 65 days before publication in a peer-reviewed journal. Despite the clear benefits of preprints, most pharmaceutical companies remain sceptical about them owing to the lack of formal peer review.

ORCID iDs, persistent and unique digital identifiers that distinguish one researcher from another, are a simple and effective way to improve scientific accountability. Together with several high-profile publishers, Open Pharma is working to improve the visibility and uptake of ORCID by pharma-affiliated authors.

It became apparent during the roundtable meeting that, although opinions on the most effective ways to improve the transparency, discoverability, accessibility and accountability of scientific research vary between the different stakeholders in academic publishing, there is a clear need to standardize this process across funders, publishers and organizations.