A new generation of vaccines based on alphavirus self-amplifying RNA
DNA or mRNA vaccines have potential advantages over conventional vaccines since they are easier to manufacture and have higher safety profiles. In particular, self-amplifying RNA (saRNA) derived from alphavirus expression vectors has shown to be very efficient to induce humoral and cellular responses against many antigens in preclinical models, being superior to non-replicating mRNA and DNA. This is mainly due to the fact that saRNA can provide very high expression levels and simultaneously induces strong innate responses, potentiating immunity. saRNA can be administered as viral particles or DNA, but direct delivery as RNA represents a safer and more simple approach. Although saRNA can be delivered as naked RNA, in vivo transfection can be enhanced by electroporation or by complexing it with cationic lipids or polymers. Alphavirus saRNA could have broad application to vaccinate against human pathogens, including emerging ones like SARS-CoV-2, for which clinical trials have been recently initiated.