Article Text

Download PDFPDF

735 Identification of a small molecule that prevents T cell exhaustion using machine learning algorithms paired with high-resolution single cell RNAseq
  1. Isabelle Le Mercier,
  2. Sunny Sun,
  3. Dongmei Xiao,
  4. Laura Isacco,
  5. Daniel Treacy,
  6. Emilie Artru,
  7. Scott Steelman,
  8. John Bradley,
  9. Alex Wolf,
  10. Morag Stewart and
  11. Effie Tozzo
  1. Cellarity, Cambridge, MA, United States


Background T cell responses are tightly regulated and require a constant balance of signals during the different stages of their activation, expansion, and differentiation. As a result of chronic antigen exposure, T cells become exhausted in solid tumors, preventing them from controlling tumor growth.

Methods We identified a transcriptional signature associated with T cell exhaustion in patients with melanoma and used our proprietary machine learning algorithms to predict molecules that would prevent T cell exhaustion and improve T cell function. Among the predictions, an orally available small molecule, Compound A, was highly predicted.

Results Compound A was tested in an in vitro T cell Exhaustion assay and shown to prevent loss of proliferation and expression of immune checkpoint receptors. Transcriptionally, Compound A-treated cells looked indistinguishable from conventionally expanded, non-exhausted T cells. However, when assessed in a classical T cell activation assay, Compound A demonstrated dose dependent activity. At low dose, Compound A was immuno-stimulatory, allowing cells to divide further by preventing activation induced cell death. At higher doses, Compound A demonstrated immuno-suppressive activity preventing early CD69 upregulation and T cell proliferation. All together, these observations suggest that Compound A prevented exhaustion with a mechanism of action involving TCR signaling inhibition. While cessation of TCR signaling or rest has been recently associated with improved CAR-T efficacy by preventing or reversing exhaustion during the in vitro manufacturing phase, it is unclear if that mechanism would translate in vivo.Compound A was evaluated in the CT26 and MC38 syngeneic mouse models alongside anti-PD1. At low dose Compound A closely recapitulated anti-PD1 mediated cell behavior changes by scRNA-seq and flow cytometry in CT26 mice. At high dose, Compound A led to the accumulation of naive cells in the tumor microenvironment (TME) confirming the proposed mechanism of action. Low dose treatment was ineffective in MC38 mouse model but a pulsed treatment at high dose also recapitulated anti-PD1 activity in most animals. Importantly, we identified a new T cell population responding to anti-PD1 that was particularly increased in the MC38 mouse model; Compound A treatment also impacted this population.

Conclusions These data confirm that mild TCR inhibition either suboptimal or fractionated can prevent exhaustion in vivo. However, this approach has a very limited window of activity between immuno-modulatory and immuno-suppressive effects, thereby limiting potential clinical benefit. Finally, these results demonstrate that our approach and platform was able to predict molecules that would prevent T cell exhaustion in vivo.

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.