Paloma Giangrande, PhD, is Not Afraid to Push Herself Out of Her Comfort Zone

ASGCT Staff - October 18, 2021

The incoming editor-in-chief of Molecular Therapy Nucleic Acids will assume her role on January 1, 2022, replacing John Rossi, PhD.

Paloma H. Giangrande, PhD, has been appointed editor-in-chief of ASGCT’s field-leading journal, Molecular Therapy Nucleic Acids (MTNA), effective January 1, 2022. Giangrande, who has been serving as one of the journal’s associate editors-in-chief, will replace current editor John Rossi, PhD, to become the first female heading one of the Society’s journals.

Since she’s been heavily involved with ASGCT for more than 15 years—serving on numerous committees and currently in the middle of her second term on the Board of Directors as its treasurer—Giangrande says her rise to editor-in-chief feels like a natural progression.

“I’ve been doing this for so long that I don’t see a difference from what I was doing before,” says Giangrande, who is also VP of platform and discovery sciences biology at Wave Life Sciences.

She says she’s been really enjoying working with the MTNA team, including her co-associate-editor-in-chief Marcin Kortylewski, PhD, and the other associate editors, to help shape the direction of the journal, but she’s excited to see how much more she can drive its growth in the next five years.

Maintaining a High Impact Factor

One of her goals has been and will continue to be “to keep that impact factor really high, and to shoot even higher,” and she and the team have accomplished part of that already. MTNA’s impact factor currently sits at 8.886 in 2021—a 26 percent increase from the previous year.

Giangrande and colleagues at the 2019 ASGCT Annual MeetingThat’s impressive, given MTNA was essentially a new journal when Rossi took over and the audience for research in RNA therapeutics was limited. Rossi said he’s extremely proud that the impact factor rose above 7 during his tenure, and Rossi will also remain with MTNA as emeritus editor-in-chief.

As she steps into this role, Giangrande says she’d also like to expand the study topics that the journal captures to make sure MTNA is getting the most innovative work and not losing out to other journals. Many people aren’t familiar with newer modalities like RNA editing, which could be advantageous to MTNA and ASGCT. A big part of leading the journal, she says, is keeping track of the hot topics and where the field is headed.

“We could be the first ones out there to start bringing in these modalities and publishing these modalities,” Giangrande says. That could help increase the journal’s visibility and attract young, enthusiastic scientists, who she’d like to have a stronger connection to the journal and to ASGCT.

Broadening Her Interests to Escape Her Comfort Zone

When asked how her career has prepared her for the role of editor-in-chief, Giangrande credits her drive to learn about new facets of the field and not limit herself to one area.

“I’ve always sort of pushed myself out of my comfort zone,” she says.

After one postdoctoral fellowship in cell cycle and transcription, she joined Bruce Sullenger’s lab at Duke University to learn about RNA aptamers and apply that to indications she was excited about, like cancer. In 2006, she was an author on a Nature Biotechnology paper that for the first time demonstrated that a ligand could be applied to siRNA. She presented that abstract at ASGCT’s Annual Meeting, and ASGCT President Beverly Davidson, PhD, who reviewed the abstract, helped Giangrande get her next position at the University of Iowa. She continued to study RNAi and RNA therapeutic applications there before moving to Moderna to focus on rare diseases—an area she had never worked in before.

“That was a real learning curve for me,” she says, adding it was “a little bumpy” at the beginning, but she knew how to apply the scientific process. Giangrande learned more about mRNA and began to get excited about everything she could do with it in the context of rare diseases. Now at Wave, she’s able to apply her knowledge to many different indications outside of cancer, the area that used to be her comfort zone.

Now, people are more familiar with mRNA, especially since last year’s FDA authorization of mRNA vaccines to prevent COVID-19.

“I think mRNA is going to be the future of vaccines,” Giangrande says, if we’re clever about how to deliver it. Safe therapeutic delivery continues to be “the biggest black box” for the field as a whole.

Looking Forward into an “Exploding” Field

Now that there is more talk within the field about RNA editing and the potential of mRNA, Giangrande wants to make sure she and her editorial team will be smart about capturing research in these areas and being the first ones to do so. All these advances make this a really exciting time to get involved in gene and cell therapy.

“We’re at the very beginning and it’s really exploding right now,” Giangrade says of the field as a whole. She advises younger scientists to think broadly, keep an open mind, and to take risks to avoid boxing themselves into one area.

Rossi agrees that the field is moving in a positive direction, as he’s seen several FDA therapy approvals during his time with the journal and more coming down the pipeline.

He says he’s happy to stay on board with MTNA as emeritus editor and to help Giangrande move into her new role, but he has new endeavors to look forward to himself. He’ll be publishing a study in MTNA soon on using RNA therapies to treat breast cancer. He’s also going to be the inaugural director of a new RNA biology and therapy center at his institution, City of Hope.

Rossi calls Giangrande a very qualified, conscientious person who has been a big help to him over the years and who he believes will be a great leader for the journal.