Major US funder joins Plan S with 2022 open access deadline

Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the biggest private US funder of biomedical research, seeks to push adoption of European-led standard

October 5, 2020
Edge of open book pages
Source: iStock

The biggest private funder of biomedical research in the US, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, is embracing a Europe-based initiative to require its scientists publish in open-access formats.

HHMI currently requires its funded work be made freely available within 12 months of publication. Its requirement for immediate open access will take effect in January 2022.

HHMI-funded scientists are among the world’s most elite, and the institute’s decision could hinder their relationships with many of the world’s top scientific journals, including Science and Cell.

The HHMI commitment is modelled on Plan S, an initiative of European-based funding agencies due to take effect in January 2021. HHMI said it is choosing an effective date one year later to give both journals and its scientists time to adjust.

“We are seeing more and more journals comply with open access goals and we are optimistic that by the time our policy rolls out, even more journals will join us,” HHMI’s president, Erin O’Shea, said in announcing the policy.

The change will affect some 256 scientists and 1,700 postdoctoral researchers at universities and laboratories in the US. HHMI, which spends more than $750 million (£578 million) a year on basic biomedical research, also has 2,300 of its own staff.

Given the prominence of HHMI-funded scientists, the institute estimates – based on 2019 figures described by Science – that its new policy would affect 13 per cent of the papers published in Cell, 7 per cent of those in Science and 5 per cent in Nature.

Some of those journals already allow open-access formats as an option for a fee, and some are actively considering changes. But HHMI’s new policy has specific restrictions that, among other things, do not count article postings on university or other outside websites as compliance.

HHMI has been a leader among funding agencies in pushing open access policies. It worked with the Wellcome Trust and the Max Planck Institute to create the open access journal eLife in 2011.

Wellcome and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation previously adopted the Plan S principles.

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