If you have an ACS member number, please enter it here so we can link this account to your membership. (optional)

ACS values your privacy. By submitting your information, you are gaining access to C&EN and subscribing to our weekly newsletter. We use the information you provide to make your reading experience better, and we will never sell your data to third party members.


ACS News

Career Ladder

Career Ladder: Salvatore La Rosa

Children’s Tumor Foundation vice president for R&D leaves behind music for a medicinal chemistry career

by Andrea Widener
July 4, 2016 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 94, Issue 27


Credit: Courtesy of Salvatore La Rosa
Salvatore La Rosa as a child playing the piano.
Credit: Courtesy of Salvatore La Rosa

A musical upbringing in Sicily


Growing up in Messina, Italy, La Rosa was interested in science, but his great love was the piano, which he started playing at age six. “I studied in a conservatory for 12 years. This was something I always carried with me.”

Choosing chemistry over classical music


After completing a degree in piano, La Rosa took a hard look at his prospects. He decided “piano is a passion, and I love doing it, but I think my future is somewhere else.” La Rosa was majoring in chemistry at the University of Messina, but he didn’t realize it might be his life’s work until he learned that chemists make medicines to help cure diseases. “That completely changed my perspective.”

Seeking global experience


La Rosa went to graduate school at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland, wanting to see more of the world. There, he worked on an international medicinal chemistry research project that became his new passion. “The thing that really blew my mind was being part of a larger team. I said, ‘I love this. This is the place for me.’ After that, music was gone.”

Finding a fit in drug discovery


After short stints at two companies, La Rosa settled at Siena Biotech in Tuscany, where he rose through the ranks to lead a team of chemists working on Huntington’s disease drug discovery. “I had the chance to use my creativity to solve problems, to be proactive. They gave us a lot of space. It was really a dream place.”

Salvatore La Rosa standing in front of a lab bench with his team of chemists.
Credit: Courtesy of Salvatore La Rosa

Surviving a company’s demise


La Rosa had been at Siena for nine years when the company, which was owned by a bank, fell victim to the recent global financial crisis. “I was still there, but I knew what was happening. It was one of those situations where you say, ‘What am I doing here? I’m waiting for this situation to collapse.’ ”

Credit: Courtesy of Salvatore La Rosa
Salvatore La Rosa on a NASDAQ billboard.
Credit: Courtesy of Salvatore La Rosa

Finding cures for children’s tumors


A former colleague offered La Rosa a job in New York City at the nonprofit Children’s Tumor Foundation, which supports research into neurofibromatosis, a benign tumor that can be debilitating. Now La Rosa is vice president for R&D. Working with patients and doctors is completely different from working in industry, he says. And he loves it. “There is a really strong drive to do something that is useful for patients today.”

Know a chemist with an interesting career path? Tell C&EN about it at

Check C&ENJobs for the latest job listings, as well as featured videos on what chemists do.



This article has been sent to the following recipient:

Chemistry matters. Join us to get the news you need.