Peter Tarsa (’99), 1st Young Alumni Awardee

The Wake Forest Friends of Chemistry and the Wake Forest Department of Chemistry are proud to have as their first Young Alumni Awardee, Dr. Peter Tarsa (’99). The award was announced at the General Meeting of the FoC at Homecoming 2015 (Sept 26). Peter was selected from among a very strong field of candidates nominated through the summer. Balloting was carried out by the Steering Committee and its faculty liaisons. Peter will receive his award during a visit to campus in the Spring.

After graduating (cum laude) from WFU with his B.S. in Chemistry and B.A. in Physics in 1999, Peter went on to complete his M.A. (2001) and Ph.D. (2004) in Physical Chemistry at Princeton University, and an NIH Postdoctoral Fellowship in Biological Engineering at MIT (2005-2007). He joined Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation as a Senior Scientist in 2007, driving global teams from lead optimization through clinical formulation (and inventing a miniaturized prototype for simulating Hot Melt Extrusion manufacturing along the way!) In 2010, Dr. Tarsa was promoted to Project Manager, and in 2013, to Senior Investigator for the Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research (NIBR). In his current role, Peter has juggled many responsibilities, from the advancement of regenerative medicine therapies into clinical trials; to supporting the initiation of liver and kidney research programs; to chairing the NIDU Steering Committee; to managing interdisciplinary project teams across multiple continents for lead optimization through Phase 2a clinical development; to collaborating with biotech in-licensing and academic teams to evaluate external opportunities for new partnerships; to analyzing the NIBR research portfolio and drafting reports for senior management and the Board of Directors. These many impressive contributions to the advancement of the field of pharmaceutical science and human wellness are accompanied by Peter’s noteworthy accomplishments in the field of cavity ringdown spectroscopy, as documented by his five patents and numerous peer-reviewed publications.

In addition to his many scientific accomplishments, Dr. Tarsa has also engaged in much service and outreach, thus personifying the WFU motto “Pro Humanitate.” Most recently, Peter has been serving as a Board Member on the Patient Care Assessment and Quality Committee (since 2014) and as an Advisor to the Patient & Family Advisory Council (since 2012) at Beth Isreal Deaconess Medical Center. In these roles, Peter collaborates with hospital administrators and physicians, and he reviews patient safety cases and hospital-wide initiatives to improve all aspects of the patient experience. Here at Wake, Peter chaired the Friends of Chemistry Steering Committee from 2011-14. Under his very able leadership, our then-nascent alumni organization developed a strong foundation upon which it continues to grow. Peter helped to build our alumni community and to solidify the role of Friends of Chemistry as an organization poised to mentor current students while serving as a professional resource group for alumni and for the Chemistry Department itself. Peter delivered the “recent alumnus” talk to newly declared WFU Chemistry majors in 2012, along with a research seminar entitled “Drug Discovery at NIBR” for all Chemistry faculty, staff, graduate students, and majors. Dr. Tarsa’s outreach and promotion of STEM fields is not restricted to WFU alone; recently (March 2014), he served as an invited panelist at Stanford University (sponsored by the School of Medicine Career Center), to discuss how to leverage one’s training in the life science industry in a session entitled “Transitioning to Opportunities in Pharmaceutical Companies.”

At age 38, Peter is positioned to provide ethical leadership in pharmaceutical and biomedical research, along with career outreach and mentoring, for many years to come, and we are fortunate and proud to call him one of our own. To see Peter’s academic and professional careers blossom is a clear indication that our students – with much initiative, hard-work, and dedication – are poised to make a difference in the scientific community and in the world around them, just as Peter has done.