Dr. Laura Evgin’s research is focused on chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) modified T cells and their use in conjunction with oncolytic viruses (OVs). OVs can help to overcome the myriad of immunosuppressive mechanisms employed by solid tumours to evade the immune system and which limit CAR T efficacy. She employs CRISPR to generate CAR T cells that can withstand the onslaught of inflammatory factors they are faced with when combined with oncolytic virus therapy. Using CRISPR screens, she aims to identify genes that either enhance or reduce CAR T cell efficacy with viral infection, and will then amplify or eliminate those genes, respectively, to create an optimized CAR T cell therapy. Dr. Evgin also aims to investigate the possibility of exploiting the endogenous T cell receptor present in CAR T cells to enhance their functionality. Specifically, she aims to use the specificity of the T cell receptor against viral proteins presented by the MHC of tumour cells infected with oncolytic viruses.

Dr. Evgin completed her PhD in the laboratory of Dr. John Bell at the University of Ottawa where she studied how neutralizing antibodies and complement limit the systemic delivery of oncolytic viruses. From there, she joined Dr. Richard Vile’s laboratory at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Her post-doctoral research focused on how oncolytic viruses could be used to amplify the reach of CAR T cells.

  • Assistant Professor, Department of Medical Genetics, University of British Columbia
  • B.Sc., Honours, Specialization in Biochemistry, University of Ottawa
  • PhD, Biochemistry, University of Ottawa

Selected Publications

Oncolytic virus-mediated expansion of dual-specific CAR T cells improves efficacy against solid tumors in mice.

Science translational medicine, 2022
Evgin, Laura, Kottke, Tim, Tonne, Jason, Thompson, Jill, Huff, Amanda L, van Vloten, Jacob, Moore, Madelyn, Michael, Josefine, Driscoll, Christopher, Pulido, Jose, Swanson, Eric, Kennedy, Richard, Coffey, Matt, Loghmani, Houra, Sanchez-Perez, Luis, Olivier, Gloria, Harrington, Kevin, Pandha, Hardev, Melcher, Alan, Diaz, Rosa Maria, Vile, Richard G
Oncolytic viruses (OVs) encoding a variety of transgenes have been evaluated as therapeutic tools to increase the efficacy of chimeric antigen receptor (CAR)-modified T cells in the solid tumor microenvironment (TME). Here, using systemically delivered OVs and CAR T cells in immunocompetent mouse models, we have defined a mechanism by which OVs can potentiate CAR T cell efficacy against solid tumor models of melanoma and glioma. We show that stimulation of the native T cell receptor (TCR) with viral or virally encoded epitopes gives rise to enhanced proliferation, CAR-directed antitumor function, and distinct memory phenotypes. In vivo expansion of dual-specific (DS) CAR T cells was leveraged by in vitro preloading with oncolytic vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV) or reovirus, allowing for a further in vivo expansion and reactivation of T cells by homologous boosting. This treatment led to prolonged survival of mice with subcutaneous melanoma and intracranial glioma tumors. Human CD19 CAR T cells could also be expanded in vitro with TCR reactivity against viral or virally encoded antigens and was associated with greater CAR-directed cytokine production. Our data highlight the utility of combining OV and CAR T cell therapy and show that stimulation of the native TCR can be exploited to enhance CAR T cell activity and efficacy in mice.

Parking CAR T Cells in Tumours: Oncolytic Viruses as Valets or Vandals?

Cancers, 2021
Evgin, Laura, Vile, Richard G
Oncolytic viruses (OVs) and adoptive T cell therapy (ACT) each possess direct tumour cytolytic capabilities, and their combination potentially seems like a match made in heaven to complement the strengths and weakness of each modality. While providing strong innate immune stimulation that can mobilize adaptive responses, the magnitude of anti-tumour T cell priming induced by OVs is often modest. Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) modified T cells bypass conventional T cell education through introduction of a synthetic receptor; however, realization of their full therapeutic properties can be stunted by the heavily immune-suppressive nature of the tumour microenvironment (TME). Oncolytic viruses have thus been seen as a natural ally to overcome immunosuppressive mechanisms in the TME which limit CAR T cell infiltration and functionality. Engineering has further endowed viruses with the ability to express transgenes in situ to relieve T cell tumour-intrinsic resistance mechanisms and decorate the tumour with antigen to overcome antigen heterogeneity or loss. Despite this helpful remodeling of the tumour microenvironment, it has simultaneously become clear that not all virus induced effects are favourable for CAR T, begging the question whether viruses act as valets ushering CAR T into their active site, or vandals which cause chaos leading to both tumour and T cell death. Herein, we summarize recent studies combining these two therapeutic modalities and seek to place them within the broader context of viral T cell immunology which will help to overcome the current limitations of effective CAR T therapy to make the most of combinatorial strategies.

Oncolytic virus-derived type I interferon restricts CAR T cell therapy.

Nature communications, 2020
Evgin, Laura, Huff, Amanda L, Wongthida, Phonphimon, Thompson, Jill, Kottke, Tim, Tonne, Jason, Schuelke, Matthew, Ayasoufi, Katayoun, Driscoll, Christopher B, Shim, Kevin G, Reynolds, Pierce, Monie, Dileep D, Johnson, Aaron J, Coffey, Matt, Young, Sarah L, Archer, Gary, Sampson, John, Pulido, Jose, Perez, Luis Sanchez, Vile, Richard
The application of adoptive T cell therapies, including those using chimeric antigen receptor (CAR)-modified T cells, to solid tumors requires combinatorial strategies to overcome immune suppression associated with the tumor microenvironment. Here we test whether the inflammatory nature of oncolytic viruses and their ability to remodel the tumor microenvironment may help to recruit and potentiate the functionality of CAR T cells. Contrary to our hypothesis, VSVmIFNβ infection is associated with attrition of murine EGFRvIII CAR T cells in a B16EGFRvIII model, despite inducing a robust proinflammatory shift in the chemokine profile. Mechanistically, type I interferon (IFN) expressed following infection promotes apoptosis, activation, and inhibitory receptor expression, and interferon-insensitive CAR T cells enable combinatorial therapy with VSVmIFNβ. Our study uncovers an unexpected mechanism of therapeutic interference, and prompts further investigation into the interaction between CAR T cells and oncolytic viruses to optimize combination therapy.

APOBEC3B-mediated corruption of the tumor cell immunopeptidome induces heteroclitic neoepitopes for cancer immunotherapy.

Nature communications, 2020
Driscoll, Christopher B, Schuelke, Matthew R, Kottke, Timothy, Thompson, Jill M, Wongthida, Phonphimon, Tonne, Jason M, Huff, Amanda L, Miller, Amber, Shim, Kevin G, Molan, Amy, Wetmore, Cynthia, Selby, Peter, Samson, Adel, Harrington, Kevin, Pandha, Hardev, Melcher, Alan, Pulido, Jose S, Harris, Reuben, Evgin, Laura, Vile, Richard G
APOBEC3B, an anti-viral cytidine deaminase which induces DNA mutations, has been implicated as a mediator of cancer evolution and therapeutic resistance. Mutational plasticity also drives generation of neoepitopes, which prime anti-tumor T cells. Here, we show that overexpression of APOBEC3B in tumors increases resistance to chemotherapy, but simultaneously heightens sensitivity to immune checkpoint blockade in a murine model of melanoma. However, in the vaccine setting, APOBEC3B-mediated mutations reproducibly generate heteroclitic neoepitopes in vaccine cells which activate de novo T cell responses. These cross react against parental, unmodified tumors and lead to a high rate of cures in both subcutaneous and intra-cranial tumor models. Heteroclitic Epitope Activated Therapy (HEAT) dispenses with the need to identify patient specific neoepitopes and tumor reactive T cells ex vivo. Thus, actively driving a high mutational load in tumor cell vaccines increases their immunogenicity to drive anti-tumor therapy in combination with immune checkpoint blockade.

Suboptimal T-cell Therapy Drives a Tumor Cell Mutator Phenotype That Promotes Escape from First-Line Treatment.

Cancer immunology research, 2019
Evgin, Laura, Huff, Amanda L, Kottke, Timothy, Thompson, Jill, Molan, Amy M, Driscoll, Christopher B, Schuelke, Matthew, Shim, Kevin G, Wongthida, Phonphimon, Ilett, Elizabeth J, Smith, Karen Kaluza, Harris, Reuben S, Coffey, Matt, Pulido, Jose S, Pandha, Hardev, Selby, Peter J, Harrington, Kevin J, Melcher, Alan, Vile, Richard G
Antitumor T-cell responses raised by first-line therapies such as chemotherapy, radiation, tumor cell vaccines, and viroimmunotherapy tend to be weak, both quantitatively (low frequency) and qualitatively (low affinity). We show here that T cells that recognize tumor-associated antigens can directly kill tumor cells if used at high effector-to-target ratios. However, when these tumor-reactive T cells were present at suboptimal ratios, direct T-cell-mediated tumor cell killing was reduced and the ability of tumor cells to evolve away from a coapplied therapy (oncolytic or suicide gene therapy) was promoted. This T-cell-mediated increase in therapeutic resistance was associated with C to T transition mutations that are characteristic of APOBEC3 cytosine deaminase activity and was induced through a TNFα and protein kinase C-dependent pathway. Short hairpin RNA inhibition of endogenous APOBEC3 reduced rates of tumor escape from oncolytic virus or suicide gene therapy to those seen in the absence of antitumor T-cell coculture. Conversely, overexpression of human APOBEC3B in tumor cells enhanced escape from suicide gene therapy and oncolytic virus therapy both and Our data suggest that weak affinity or low frequency T-cell responses against tumor antigens may contribute to the ability of tumor cells to evolve away from first-line therapies. We conclude that immunotherapies need to be optimized as early as possible so that, if they do not kill the tumor completely, they do not promote treatment resistance.
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