Interview with Silvia Grandoni

Silvia Grandoni is a post-doctoral researcher at the Institute for Applied Computing “Mauro Picone”, Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche (CNR), in Rome. CNR is the Italian national research council comprising several research institutes. Silvia works within Work Package 5 of ERA4TB which focuses on the use of modelling and simulation.

How long have you worked on ERA4TB?
I started working on ERA4TB in March 2020, just after the first Covid lockdown happened so I was initially working remotely. This was a little challenging to begin as it was a new group, new job, but I have found the equilibrium.

Tell us a little about your background before joining ERA4TB
I obtained a Masters in Bioengineering and PhD in Bioengineering and Bioinformatics from the University of Pavia, in Italy. I worked with a pharma company to support the development of inhaled drugs.  My PhD was focused on developing a translational modelling framework.

Tell us about your role within ERA4TB
I am involved in translational modelling and simulation activities, doing different kinds of analyses. It is a little complex to explain in simple terms, however, basically we provide information to allow the planning of hopefully successful and optimised clinical trials. We use modelling and simulation of the data produced within the consortium to provide recommendations of treatment combination regimens and the dosing needed to be tested in humans.

Modelling helps to optimize animal experimental protocols, as it makes it easier to predict the anti-TB drug effect in humans, reducing animal sacrifice and increasing the amount of information we can get.

Furthermore, I’m working on the development of a mathematical model that includes the immune system response to TB in addition to drug effect, to better predict the anti-TB treatment outcome in humans.

Why is ERA4TB important to you?
Globally I think that this project has a great potential as it is putting together great scientists from different parts of the world, with cutting-edge technologies to advance anti-TB drug development.

To me, this project is extremely interesting because I can work with people from different backgrounds with huge expertise in the field of TB. Additionally, I can apply modelling and simulation to a lot of different kind of data to inform clinical trials so in vitro, in vivo, pre-clinical data from different animal trials species, to answer different questions. It is also interesting to see how this these analyses fit into drug development, because it is a concrete drug development project. Also, I am learning a lot about drug development itself, irrespective of modelling. I am really interested in drug development, so I think it is a really interesting project.

It is my first project on TB, in the past I have worked on inhaled drug development so the lungs are still involved, but about antimicrobials, it is my first project. I’m able to use some of the knowledge I acquired previously within this project.

What would you like both yourself and the ERA4TB project as a whole to achieve in the next 4 years?
Regarding the project as a whole, I hope we will be able to get the maximum information from the different pre-clinical experiments we are undertaking, to define a successful combination to be tested in humans, hopefully with a high chance of having a shorter and more effective treatment. In addition, I hope we will be able to be integrated as much as possible within the ERA4TB consortium, so collaborating with other work packages. We are rapidly improving a lot our connections with other work packages with the project. I hope we will have a strategic role in providing information to plan a successful clinical trial.

Furthermore, I hope we will be able to integrate our work with the UNITE4TB project, another IMI funded project focused on developing TB treatments, but in the later phases of research, as they are going to perform efficacy clinical trials.

Regarding myself, I hope to improve my skills in modelling and simulation but also in drug development in this extremely interesting and challenging context. I hope to complement my engineering background with a lot of other skills and knowledge related to drug development.

In what ways, if any, has being involved in ERA4TB been beneficial for you and your career, and what have you most enjoyed about being part of the project?
I have enjoyed being in contact with people with different expertise.
I have also improved my communication skills, understanding how to explain technical concepts to people with different backgrounds, to try to work in a synergistic way.

Finally, outside of work what do you enjoy doing?
I like to travel a lot, during the pandemic we faced challenges to travel, but I love it a lot. I love art and go to art exhibitions. I also love to be outdoors and particularly to go out for walks, especially at the end of the day to relax and stretch the legs.