As U.S. declares public health emergency, science leaders ask publishers for access to monkeypox research

Science officials are calling for publishers to free up genetic testing data and other research on monkeypox conducted by groups like the University of Wisconsin Medicine Virology Laboratory.KAREN DUCEY/GETTY IMAGES

Open access would help the public health response to the spreading virus, officials argue

Just hours before the United States declared monkeypox a national public health emergency today, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and science leaders from around the world called on scientific publishers to immediately make any monkeypox-related research and data published by their journals freely available to help contain the spread of the virus.

The United States now leads the world in the absolute number of confirmed monkeypox cases, and the national emergency declaration allows government health officials to flexibly access money to make grants, award contracts, and ease coordination with state and local public health officials. It also allows them to avoid some bureaucratic hurdles that could otherwise slow a response.

The White House earlier this week named Robert Fenton, a senior official with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and a former acting administrator of the agency, as national monkeypox response coordinator. His deputy will be Demetre Daskalakis, a physician who directs the Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and has long experience working with the LGBTQ community; the vast majority of monkeypox cases have been in men who have sex with men.

While we know that monkeypox is not exclusively a sexually transmitted virus, we also recognized early on that this virus was spreading more rapidly and differently than we’ve seen in prior outbreaks,” Daskalakis said at a press conference today. He stressed that the government intends to work with gay and bisexual men who have been most affected by this outbreak. “We have plans to provide technical assistance to state and local health departments to develop and ramp up nonstigmatizing messaging,” he said.

Cases of monkeypox were first reported in May from multiple countries that had not been affected before, an unprecedented outbreak of a disease that had largely been restricted to a few countries in Africa. Since then the virus has spread to more than 70 countries and more than 25,000 cases have been reported.

Given the urgency of the situation, it is particularly important that scientists and the public can access research results and data as soon as possible,” OSTP officials wrote today in an appeal to publishers co-signed by science and technology leaders and advisers from 19 countries. Publishers should enable free access to relevant publications and place them in public repositories, the letter says. (For a similar appeal related to COVID-19 research in March 2019, science leaders noted PubMedCentral as one such repository.)

Open access to all data and research is vital,” says Yale University epidemiologist Gregg Gonsalves, who points out that far less information on the outbreak exists compared with COVID-19 at the beginning of that pandemic. “We’re all scrambling to find information and we do not need roadblocks in our way.”

The letter was signed by representatives from Germany, Ghana, Singapore, and 16 other countries as well as the Group of Chief Scientific Advisors of the European Commission. The letter highlights the need for research results and data to be freely available to scientists and public health officials in low- and middle-income countries where there is often much less access to such information.

A similar call in March 2020 urged publishers to share research on COVID-19 and coronaviruses and allow scientists to post preprints on work they had submitted to the journals. Many journals, including Science, already provide free access to papers on emerging diseases because of their relevance to public health.

Recent important publications on monkeypox in The New England Journal of MedicineThe BMJ, and The Lancet have all been open access, notes Boghuma Titanji, a virologist at Emory University. “I hope that will continue. But I am aware that not every journal is doing this, so a call for others to follow suit is still relevant. [Monkeypox] sadly isn’t going away and there will be a lot of research published in coming months which will need to be widely accessible.”