Editor’s note: Senior writer Allan Maurer covers the life science industries for Local Tech Wire. His column will appear each Friday. Decades ago, a best-selling book called the “Biological Time Bomb,” predicted a spate of coming biotechnology advances that are exploding now, ranging from cloning to organ banks and cancer cures.

A handful of North Carolina companies, most based in the Research Triangle, are at the forefront of this revolution. It is a revolution that promises new treatments fundamentally different from other medical and biological advances.

Rigorous U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations leading to approval of new therapeutic treatments for disease mean we will probably have to wait up to ten years for the first spate of these fundamental changes to emerge into the marketplace.

But those new treatments that make it through the tough clinical trial process will be revolutionary compared to many therapies of the past. Based on our rapidly advancing understanding of how the body works at a molecular and genetic level, many new therapies will seem little short of miraculous compared to what is available now.

Here is a look at what’s going on — just locally.

Gene hunters

Intronn, currently based in Raleigh, is testing a type of gene-splicing its creator, Lloyd Mitchell, a medical doctor, says can theoretically “fix anything.”

The technique hijacks our cells’ own method of genetic programming. It has already helped the Intronn obtain substantial National Institute of Health research grants, support from major stock-holder Proteome, a British public company, and capital from two biotech savvy venture firms.

Cogent Neuroscience, Durham, co-founded by serial entrepreneur Max Wallace, hunts for genes that may protect our brains against stroke, Alzheimer’s and other maladies. The company has already identified many such genes using its proprietary technology.

A cure for cancer?

Merix Bioscience, also based in the Triangle, recently landed the largest single venture capital round ($40 million) for a North Carolina biotech firm ever. Merix is developing an anti-cancer vaccine it says may be effective again a wide variety of tumors.

Stem cells without the controversy

Venture-backed Triangle firms, StemCo and Artecel are developing adult stem cell related technologies of great promise. Adult stem cells, which usually can be coaxed only into making tissue of the type from which they are derived (blood, fat, etc.), do not face the controversial questions surrounding even more promising embryonic stem cells, which can make any organ or tissue in the body.

Yet, if as Artecel scientists believe, these adult stem cells (or stromal cells, as they prefer to call them) can be biologically coaxed into becoming a range of tissues such as blood, cartilage, skin, and bone, they could be extraordinarily useful.

Artecel CEO Carolyn Underwood said studies support the company’s premise that fat tissue can be manipulated to become cells resembling fat, cartilage and bone cells.

“Everyone gets excited about the possible cosmetic use,” Underwood says. She adds that people like the idea of using their own fat cells – which most of think we have too many of – to fill in wrinkles or repair scar tissue.

From a medical standpoint, though, Underwood said the potential life-saving use of supporting bone marrow transplants for people undergoing chemotherapy for leukemia’s and cancers.

RTP-based Incara (Nasdaq:INCR)is testing the use of liver precursor cells as a possible alternative to liver transplants.

Jeffrey H. Fair, chief of abdominal transplant programs at the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Medicine says, “Liver precursor cell transplant might provide an opportunity to delay or avoid the need for a liver transplant in tens of thousands of patients. If successful it would enhance the quality of life and extend lives.”

Incara is also developing a new class of ultra-powerful antioxidants — molecules that help prevent cell damage from oxygen free radicals. Those free radicals, a byproduct of our need for oxygen to burn food and give us energy can rust the working of a cell as surely as oxygen turns iron to dust outside the body. The company is studying the use of super antioxidants to fight cell damage after stroke.

AIDs Fighters

RTP-based Trimeris (Nasdaq: TRMS) is testing a new treatment for AIDS that attracts the HIV virus before it fuses with cells to take them over and make more virus. Its so-called “fusion inhibitors” are in clinical trials and may help even those AIDS victims who do not respond to conventional therapies.

This is far from a comprehensive list of Triangle biotech firms working on potentially revolutionary products and it fails to touch the considerable research yet to break out of regional University labs. But even this sketch of some of the more prominent regional companies gives you the idea: some of the biological time bombs are exploding right here in North Carolina.

Here at Local Tech Wire, we’ll be bringing you breaking news and more thoughtful analysis of the ongoing biotechnology revolution and the role of North Carolina companies and Universities in making it happen.

Stay tuned. Sometime in the coming years, you may read the headlines: “Cure for Cancer verified, dread disease defeated”; and “AIDS no longer a deadly disease.”