Ways to increase transparency, trust and patient involvement in pharma-funded publications – insights from the virtual 16th Annual Meeting of ISMPP

Sarah Sabir

This year, the Annual Meeting of the International Society for Medical Publication Professionals (ISMPP) went virtual. With a mix of engaging live and recorded sessions, 15 roundtables and over 45 posters to delve into, we share some of the highlights from the meeting.

Open science, effective communication and the evolution of the medical publication professional were the key themes of the virtual 16th Annual Meeting of ISMPP, held on 16–18 June 2020.

Opening remarks from Catherine Skobe (Senior Director, Publications Innovative Solutions Lead at Pfizer and Immediate Past Chair of ISMPP) and Todd Parker (MedThink SciCom and Chair-Elect of ISMPP) focused on the long-term effects that the COVID-19 pandemic will have on medical publishing. Of note were the surge in the use of preprint servers and publications related to COVID-19 being published open access. However, in light of the recent retractions from The Lancet and The New England Journal of Medicine, it was stressed that faster dissemination of research requires extra vigilance.

With pharma-funded research generally trusted less than published research funded by other sources, sessions highlighted ways of building trust through improving the accessibility, transparency and reproducibility of disseminated research.

Niamh O’Connor, Chief Publishing Officer at PLOS, described open access as only the first step towards open science, a much broader topic with multiple components. Complete reporting of research protocols, data, code, software, open peer reviews and registered reports were described as effective ways to increase transparency and therefore trust in scientific research. While the sharing of conflicts of interest and attributions is essential, it is also important to explain what these mean to allow for a better understanding and interpretation.

David Mellor, Director of Policy Initiatives at the Center for Open Science, stated that the development of infrastructure, such as data repositories and platforms for collaborations, would allow researchers to implement transparent and reproducible practices. Furthermore, incorporation of transparent and openness standards into journal policies, as measured by the Transparency and Openness Promotion Guidelines, was discussed as another way to improve scientific reporting.

Of particular interest was the ‘Editor’s panel: I’m an Editor – Ask me Anything!’ session, during which a panel of editors answered questions on open access, predatory publishing, digital enhancements and the effect of COVID-19 on medical publishing. Digital enhancements, such as talking head videos, audio slides and graphical abstracts, are increasingly being used to accompany publications. Also, articles with digital features are downloaded more often than those without. Adis has even published fully digital articles whereby content is delivered via a podcast and the accompanying text is simply a transcript of the podcast, highlighting the evolution and new challenges that medical publication professionals are facing. With Open Pharma’s newly named workstream on discoverability, we were also excited to hear that digital content, such as plain language summaries, is being added below the listing of an abstract in PubMed.

Patient and carer involvement in research activities is another evolving but crucial area discussed during the meeting. Patient involvement not only builds trust and good reputation but also improves clinical trial recruitment and retention, as well as treatment adherence, and reduces time to regulatory approval. Importantly, patient input adds value across a spectrum of medical communications and promotes the development of communications that may be more relevant to patients. For patients, it allows a better understanding of the processes within pharma and opportunities to provide their input. Patients should be involved as early on in the process as possible to allow for the co-production of knowledge and time to build value and capture insights. Additionally, the switch to virtual meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic was considered a positive outcome for involving patients who are unable to travel long distances.

Finally, an engaging look at the next 5 years of medical publications highlighted the broader remit that publication professionals now face in ensuring that they are leveraging technology to make sure data is understood, shared and reached by all audiences. Artificial intelligence capabilities are being embraced, but there is still a long way to go. The greatest change will be the rapid, open and transparent access to information through open access publications, preprint servers and repositories, enabling a multichannel method of communication rather than the classic linear model.

For more details on any of the sessions at ISMPP, read the overnight reports written by Oxford PharmaGenesis.