12 Questions with Stefan Woxström
Stefan Woxström leads the Europe and Canada business at AstraZeneca and brings a wealth of experience from 27 years with the organisation, having held a variety of local and regional roles across sales and commercial, as well as several Country President positions. Stefan is utilising his experience to expand AstraZeneca’s therapy areas across the region and transform healthcare delivery for the greatest benefit of patients, healthcare systems and societies.
What are the main responsibilities of your current role? As Senior Vice President of AstraZeneca Europe and Canada, I’m responsible for leading the company’s sales, marketing, and commercial operations across 30 markets. I support our teams to grow the company ethically and sustainably, with a goal to double the size of our business and improve the lives of around 20 million patients by 2025. To achieve this, my responsibilities go far beyond sales of our medicines – we are partnering to find solutions to the challenges facing healthcare worldwide, collaborating to address the growing burden of chronic disease and transforming health systems to be more resilient and sustainable for the future.
What is your background prior to this role and how did it prepare you for the work you do now? I’ve worked at AstraZeneca for the last 27 years, holding various roles across diverse geographies, from Europe to the emerging markets and Asia, and living in seven different countries to date. These roles have given me global insight into the evolving healthcare landscape, including the differences between countries when it comes to healthcare, as well as the many similarities all systems face today, helping me in my current role as we look to ‘future-proof’ health systems and partner to find solutions.
What are some of the biggest ongoing challenges in your work? Rates of chronic diseases continue to rise across Europe, putting unsustainable pressures on our already overstretched healthcare systems. Rather than focusing on the ‘here and now’, we need to consider longer-term approaches for healthcare transformation at scale, partnering to make health systems more efficient and future-proofed against anticipated demands. Cross-border collaboration will be key, with initiatives like the Partnership for Healthcare Sustainability and Resilience (PHSSR) providing evidence-informed solutions and policy recommendations to accelerate health system improvement. Now active in 30 countries worldwide, PHSSR is helping to ensure that health systems are able to withstand future crises and the growing burden of disease, whilst also promoting climate-friendly healthcare as a pillar of resilience.
What do you see as the biggest challenges facing the industry right now? Over recent years, investment in pharmaceutical R&D has progressively declined across Europe. To nurture a healthier Europe and protect the wellbeing of future generations, it’s essential that policy, legislative, and regulatory environments recognise, appropriately incentivise, and accelerate innovation. We need the revisions to the European Pharmaceutical Strategy to create an ecosystem that offers both a globally competitive environment for R&D, alongside equitable access to healthcare. Europe must remain a premier global hub for cutting-edge medical research because, by investing in health, we’re also investing in our economic future, creating a solid foundation for people, our society, and our planet.
What excites you most about current industry trends? Advances in science and technology are creating an exciting vision for tomorrow’s health, with next generation medicines transforming healthcare far beyond just enhancing or extending lives. Digitalisation and the use of health data are helping us predict and prevent diseases earlier, and novel technologies like cell and gene therapies and precision medicines are taking us ever closer towards cure. These advances will help to drive health system efficiencies in the delivery of care, and may even enable us to stop many diseases in their tracks, transforming the entire patient journey.
If you could change one thing about how health is perceived, what would it be? We need to reframe the value of health. Good health is key to strengthening economies, bolstering societies, and enabling communities to thrive. We must change how health is perceived, not as a cost, but as an investment in wellbeing and prosperity.
How do you foster diversity in your workplace? Promoting diversity in the backgrounds, beliefs, perspectives, and experiences of our teams drives higher levels of innovation, increased performance, and ultimately better represents the broad patient populations we serve across the globe. We cultivate inclusion and belonging by fostering an environment where everyone feels valued, heard, and respected, embracing diversity through our leadership and talent pipeline – 50% of our senior or middle management roles in Europe and Canada are now held by women – and remain committed to health equity, and clinical trial and supplier diversity.
What message do you have for your pharma industry peers? Our future depends on healthy people, a healthy society, and a healthy planet. No one company can drive change alone, so the pharma industry needs to work together and collaborate to build a sustainable future – one which protects our health now and the health of generations to come.
What advice would you give to a young person starting out in your field? Whatever aspect of pharma you pursue, curiosity and perseverance will be key. Pharma is an everchanging world of unknowns and you can go from exhilaration to disappointment with just one set of clinical trial results. You need to be strong, adaptable, open to learning throughout your career, and ultimately a great team player. The reward is to bring new innovation, cutting-edge science, and life-changing medicines to people who need them.
What are your hobbies? What do you do in your free time? I’ve always been a passionate skier. For me, skiing means time with my family, friends, and colleagues – and a chance to get away from it all to reflect and to recharge. I love the peace of the mountains and there’s nothing better than coming back from a day on the slopes knowing that you’ve pushed yourself both physically and mentally. The nature of the mountains also drives my commitment to preserve our planet and ensure we act with sustainability in everything we do.
What is your all-time favourite book? I found The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee completely fascinating. It covers the history of cancer, from the earliest known cases through the centuries as our understanding of the disease has grown, to today’s innovative treatments that seek to cure. Written from the perspective of a physician and researcher, it reflects the challenges we so often face in drug discovery and medicine – testing our ingenuity and persistence, as we learn to evolve following setbacks, and our hope as we follow the science into new areas. It’s a great read that shows just how far we’ve come, yet how much is still unknown in the ‘war against cancer’.
If you could have any job other than the one you have now, what would you choose? In my pre-pharma life, I spent my days surfing the waves in Hawaii. I suppose if I could do anything other than what I do now, it would likely be something outdoors.
Connect with Stefan Woxström on LinkedIn.