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Opportunities and challenges in open access publishing of industry-sponsored research

While pharmaceutical companies fund around half of all biomedical research, few mandate open access to the study results. In a recent viewpoint article published in European Science Editing, members of the Medical Publishing Insights and Practices (MPIP) initiative Steering Committee share their perspectives on the potential benefits, and challenges, of publishing industry-sponsored research open access.

The authors highlight several benefits of publishing medical research open access, including:

  • facilitating engagement of a wider community, strengthening public interest and awareness of current advances in science
  • enabling healthcare professionals to keep up to date with advances that inform patient care and to access articles for use in teaching or policy papers to help advocate for their patients
  • reducing duplication of existing research, which accelerates the progress of science
  • improving the perception of transparency and increasing the credibility of the research.

The authors note that, alongside the main article, supplementary materials should be published open access to maximise benefits for the reader.

Open access publishing models and licenses vary widely in how quickly research can be disseminated. Publishing via the gold open access route with a CC-BY Creative Commons license offers both free and immediate access to the article and allow the research to be shared and reused. However, publishing routes may be restricted depending on the funding source: most medical journals with a high impact factor (>15) do not currently permit pharmaceutical companies to publish under a CC-BY license.

The authors note that such restrictions have hampered the credibility of, and trust in, industry-sponsored research.

MPIP, a collaboration between industry members and the International Society for Medical Publication Professionals (ISMPP), aims to tackle such issues, including through the ‘Transparency Matters’ initiative that highlights the importance of transparency in reporting industry-sponsored research.

Encouragingly, there are promising signs of progress. Although few pharmaceutical companies mandate full open access to their data, others are introducing open access policies that aim to improve the discoverability and accessibility of their research. Furthermore, when medical journal editors were surveyed about the reporting of industry-sponsored clinical trials, 63.5% and 53.2% believed that transparency and credibility, respectively, had improved in 2015 compared with 2010 (correspondingly, only 6.1% and 10.4% of respondents felt that these had worsened).

Disclosing study sponsors, mandatory trial registration and posting study results on were all highlighted as factors increasing perceived transparency, while making trial data publicly available improved transparency and credibility.

In closing, the authors emphasise the critical importance of transparency in gaining and retaining public trust in the integrity of research, regardless of the funding source.


Summary by Beatrice Tyrrell DPhil from Aspire Scientific


With thanks to our sponsor, Aspire Scientific Ltd

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