Open Access in 60 Seconds

Video about Open Access. (CC BY 3.0 DE)
Source: Brinken, H., Hauss, J. &  Rücknagel, J. (2021). Open Access in 60 seconds,

Open Access in Medicine and Life Sciences

In medicine and the life sciences, open access is particularly supported by mandates from research funders such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Wellcome Trust, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Calls for free access to the results of research in medicine and the life sciences refer to the direct link between open access and public health, especially in the global South. Consequently, the World Health Organization (WHO) is also committed to promoting open access to the results of medical research, and operates IRIS, a repository for information sharing. Some research funders also provide publication platforms on which the results of the research that they fund can be published. Examples of such platforms include Wellcome Open Research and Gates Open Research. To comply with funding requirements, the published results of NIH-funded research must be made accessible on PubMed Central (PMC), the disciplinary repository for biomedical and life sciences journal literature at the NIH National Library of Medicine.

Many of the “born open access” journals in the life sciences that were founded in the 2010s are now well established. Journals such as PeerJ, BMJ Open, Cell Reports, and eLife focus exclusively on this domain. 

In addition, since around 2016, preprint servers have increasingly played a role in making the results of research in medicine and the life sciences available in open access at an early stage. They include, for example, bioRxiv and medRxiv, which have a life science focus (further preprint servers can be found in the preprint server directory provided by ASAPbio). During the COVID-19 pandemic, preprints in medicine have gained increased importance for the rapid dissemination of research results. However, criticism of the publication of preprints has also been voiced, because results were available before undergoing quality control through peer review and the media picked up these unreviewed results and treated them as scientific facts.

Open Access Journals

As of March 2021, the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) listed 3,600 journals under the subject category “Medicine” alone, of which over 560 had been awarded the DOAJ Seal

The list of journals on the PubMed Central platform also offers search possibilities. Some or all of the articles from certain journals are available free of charge or available in open access under a Creative Commons or similar distribution licence immediately upon publication or after an embargo period.

Open Access Books

As of March 2021, the Directory of Open Access Books (DOAB) listed over 2,400 titles under the search string ““Life Science” OR Medicine””, and the OAPEN Library listed around 200 titles under the search term “medical”

As scholarly communication in medicine and life sciences takes place for the most part via journal publications, open access books are not at the forefront of discussion in this domain. Larger publishers with a medical or life science focus and a portfolio of open access journals usually also offer open access book programmes whereby books can be published in open access against payment of a book processing charge (BPC).

While most programmes are still strongly geared towards printed books, a small number of initiatives promote purely electronic implementation, particularly with a view to exploiting the advantages of a digital environment and enhancing publications with multi-media content such as videos or audio files (Breure et al., 2011; Bardi & Manghi, 2014) or with links to further materials. They include, for example, the Living Handbooks programme offered by ZB MED – Information Centre for Life Sciences, which focuses particularly on handbooks.

Disciplinary Repositories

The leading repositories in medicine and the life sciences include:

PubMed Central is by far the most important repository in medicine and the life sciences. It is a database of choice for literature searches, and thus plays a key role in ensuring the visibility of journals, institutions, and authors in the life science disciplines. 

As an offering from Germany, the PUBLISSO Disciplinary Repository for Life Sciences provided by ZB MED – Information Centre for Life Sciences offers researchers the possibility of publishing or self-archiving documents, articles, and research data. In addition, it offers institutions in the fields of medicine, healthcare, and food, environmental, and agricultural sciences that do not have their own repositories the possibility of cohesively presenting their publications on their own institute pages.

An overview of relevant repositories is also provided by the Directory of Open Access Repositories (OpenDOAR). As of March 2021, over 500 repositories were listed under the subjects “Health and Medicine”.

Practical Tip

Open-Access-Literatur finden (German only)

Open Science in Medicine and Life Sciences

Because of the immense importance of medical and life science information for society, there are numerous initiatives which further the opening of the research cycle in this domain, and especially to facilitate access to and reuse of research data. Information on research data in medicine and the life sciences can also be found under “Lebenswissenschaften” on the German-language information portal on research data management


Content editor of this page: Dr Jasmin Schmitz, ZB MED – Leibniz Information Centre for Life Sciences (Last updated: March 2021)