Top ten innovators in pharma: Andrew Spong

Hannah Blake


(Continued from “Top ten innovators in pharma: Mike Rea”)

We asked you to nominate those who you considered to be a top innovator in pharma. We were delighted with your responses and have whittled it down to the top ten pharma innovators for this series.

This week’s top pharma innovator is Andrew Spong, who was nominated by his peers for leading the digital revolution in the pharma industry.

Name: Andrew Spong

Position: Founder, STweM

Reasons for nomination as a pharma innovator include:

• Andrew is an expert in all aspects of digital and social media, and is always eager to help or offer advice in any way he can.

• Andrew has been leading the digital revolution in the pharma industry with his futuristic vision, social media activities and eagerness to change how things are traditionally going.

• He is a trusted industry thought leader.

• Andrew has an extensive knowledge in social media and health communications.

Background: Andrew worked in academia for 12 years, followed by a further 11 years in scholarly publishing before turning his attention to the health conversation on the social web.


“Andrew has been leading the digital revolution in the pharma industry with his futuristic vision…”


In 2008, Andrew founded STweM, a boutique social business development and health communications consultancy. A year later, Andrew co-founded Healthcare Social Media Europe.

Andrew co-founded Digitally Sick, alongside Alex Butler and Faisal Ahmed, in 2011. This year, Andrew also became a partner of medDigital and a senior strategist at Symplur.

Interview summary

HB: What do you consider to be your defining character traits?

AS: You can certainly chalk up dedication, reliability, and honesty as they’re out there in the open. In a more self-aggrandising vein, I’d hope that insightfulness, perspicacity, and ratiocination would make the cut, but that’s for others to say.

As for the rest, well I’m not sure they’re all good, actually. My default position with regard to existing states of affairs within healthcare tends to be dissatisfaction, which in its turn nurtures an inveterate tendency to disagree with almost everything, most of the time. However, the upside as the owner of a boutique consultancy is that the response to my critique is usually ‘so what would you do?’, which provides me with the opportunity to propose solutions, help execute them, measure their success, and integrate the outcomes they generate. The fact that my clients are kind enough to continue to offer me commissions and that new ones have been generous enough to seek me out suggest that there must be a need for this sort of action-provoking irascibility.

HB: How would your colleagues / peers describe you?

AS: They would say I am:

• A community builder, connector, creator and curator.

• An active participant in the democratisation of the health conversation on the social web.

• Obsessed with the provision of high quality, relevant, reliable, accessible, outcomes-oriented, patient-focused health information.

• Intolerant of healthcare inequality.

HB: Who or what has inspired you to get to where you are today?

AS: If we date its inception from the founding of Myspace in 2003, the social web is less than ten years old. The fact that there are so many commentators ready to offer pronouncements about how the social web works and what we should be doing within it seemed wrong to me in 2008, and it still does. I wanted to help clients push back against the prevailing mania with creating taxonomies of the social web, and support them in their desire to understand how these environments could help their businesses help their customers.


“My default position with regard to existing states of affairs within healthcare tends to be dissatisfaction…”

HB: What advice would you give to anyone embarking on a career in pharma at the moment?

AS: Please bear in mind these are comments from someone who has worked with the industry for nearly fifteen years, but never in it. I describe pharma as I believe it can be, rather than perhaps as it is. However, I could identify scores of industry employees of my acquaintance who adhere to these principles. To me, these employees represent the best of the industry, and are signposts to its future in terms of their aspirations for it.

I would advise those considering a career in pharma to begin by being honest with themselves as to why they want to work in the industry. If they see pharma as a marque profession within which they can earn a lot of money, perhaps they’d be happier as merchant bankers. However, if they see the industry as a space within which they can aspire to play a part in delivering on a promise to improve human health and quality of life, then they may find some professional satisfaction. An unshakeable commitment to delivering strong revenue generation by doing social good and maintaining a robust ethical stance rather than delivering revenue ‘at any cost’ is also a fundamental requirement, in my opinion.

HB: What do you see to be the biggest challenge posed to pharma at the moment?

AS: Pharma is finding it difficult to evolve socially across the enterprise. Social is not a communications strategy, it is a mindset, a commitment, and the way business will be done in the future. It is simple to express, difficult to execute, and can only be engineered at a corporate strategy level. I see little evidence of conversations of this sort taking place within these contexts at present. Perhaps most importantly, it is merely one aspect of a larger set of cultural and attitudinal changes that may be expedited through rather than causally stimulated by existing and emerging technologies. The industry needs to find a way of disrupting itself before other industries disrupt it.

HB: What key phrase best sums up your approach to work and life?

AS: We can no longer say ‘the “me” you see at work isn’t the real me. Work is just somewhere I go during the day. Work pays the rent. I don’t live to work, I work to live.’


“Social is not a communications strategy, it is a mindset, a commitment, and the way business will be done in the future.”


The reality is, we do live to work. We get up and do it every working day. Saying we don’t doesn’t make it not happen. If we don’t like the work, we should find another job.

Our work can either alienate us from ourselves, or be part of a broader definition of who we are.

HB: What keeps you busy outside work?

AS: By any definition, I am probably the worst 5K runner in the world, but I keep plugging away at it. I read a lot, digitally and in print, mostly philosophy, military history and SF. I can’t get away from arguing, fighting, and speculating, it seems. Beyond that, I am a craft beer fan and a savourer of bourbon and island whiskies, an unplugged gamer, an appreciator of loud and difficult music, and an unsuccessful cat-herder. When not inflicting my dubious culinary abilities on family and friends, you’ll either find me tramping the Sussex countryside or coast, or planning a disastrous camping trip.

The next article in this series will be published on 15th August.


About the nominee:

Andrew Spong, PhD is one of the is one of the most trusted voices in the global health conversation and consistently ranked as among one of the most influential pharma and healthcare thought leaders on the social web.

Co-founder of the leading European healthcare community Health Care Social Media Europe (#hcsmeu, @hcsmeu) and premier healthcare podcast Digitally Sick (@digitally_sick), he is well known as a community builder, health conversationalist, creator and curator to pharma, healthcare professional and patient communities across the social web.

Andrew is founder of boutique social business development and health communications consultancy STweM, Partner at medDigital, and Senior Strategist at Symplur.

Who do you think is a great digital innovator?