With 2004 just around the corner, we reminisce over the high and low points of 2003. Plus: In the holiday spirit, we offer three gadget gift ideas for geeks.

Biggest venture deal

It’s a close call between two biotech companies, but Pittsboro-based Biolex raised $24.4 million in a fourth round of venture capital financing, beating out Highpoint-based Trans Tech Pharma, which raised $24 million. Quaker BioVentures, Philadelphia, PA and Intersouth Partners, Durham, led the round, which also included five new investors and all of its existing investors. New investors are Johnson & Johnson Development Corp., Mitsui & Co. Venture Partners, The Dow Chemical Co., Dogwood Equity, and Trelys Venture Partners. Biolex uses the green aquatic plant Lemna to express human proteins for therapeutic drug use.

Biggest deal that crumbled

In what appeared to be alliance relationship management gone awry, Nobex lost pharmaceutical giant Glaxo Smith Kline as a partner for its insulin project. The lead drug, HIM2, is an oral insulin product that already was in Phase II clinical trials before Nobex struck its deal with GSK. Nobex has developed what it says is a modified insulin that can be absorbed orally rather than through injection. It’s unclear why GSK terminated the alliance. Nobex said in a statement last month that it was based on “internal business decisions” at GSK.

Almost deadly stress scare

Hands down, Relativity’s Vivek Wadhwa took away the blue ribbon for this category last year when he scared his family and investors alike with a heart attack caused by two blockages in two main arteries to his heart. Wadhwa spent three days in the critical care unit and returned to the office only to find the company in a cash crunch.

This year’s award goes to Mirador Systems’ Roger Lingle, president and co-founder of Mirador Systems. In March Lingle suffered a brain aneurysm, which left him in the intensive care unit for two weeks. He keeled over in the foyer of his own home, busting his chin open right before he was to attend his daughter’s swim meet. Lingle said the medical scare gave new meaning to work/life balance. Less than six months later, Lingle sold the company to Virginia-based IndusLogic.

The family feud of the year

Talk about sibling rivalry. The Hunters took their family squabble from the living room to the courtroom when Eric Hunter, a co-founder and former chief executive of Cree, filed a $3.2 billion lawsuit against the company and his brother, Neal. Eric Hunter alleged that his brother, Cree’s chairman, used a 2000 acquisition to artificially inflate the company’s finances and stock price.

Neal Hunter, his mother and another family member responded by alleging that Eric Hunter is mentally ill.

The lawsuit was settled when Eric Hunter dropped all claims against Cree and agreed not to sue again. He also resigned from the company.

The gift-giving guide for geeks

Finally, it’s here. A smart phone that’s actually smart. The Handspring Treo 600 is a cell phone and Palm OS organizer (allowing for all Palm applications) with wireless applications such as email, text messaging and Web browsing. It’s also a low-resolution digital camera. And best of all, it fits in your pocket. There’s no longer a need to weigh down your pockets with all those different gadgets. But it doesn’t come cheap. Starts at $449.

For all you weekend road warriors, there’s the G-Timer by Escort. This vehicle performance computer tells you all you could possibly want to know about your car’s performance. The device records your 0 to 60 acceleration time and quarter-mile times, and calculates and your average and peak horsepower. If that’s not enough, it also displays accelerations, cornering and braking G-forces. When you’re done burning rubber, you can download data from your last 10 runs to your PC or PDA. Lower models start at $150.

As gadgets go, it’s an oldie but a goodie. The iPod by Apple is still one of the hottest MP3 players on the market. And it also syncs with both iTunes for Mac and Windows. The most recent model boasts a 40GB hard drive, should you ever need to tote around 10,000 songs or gobs of digital photos. It also works as a personal voice recorder. The digital music recorder weighs around six ounces. Available starting at $299.

Have predictions or premonitions about the new year? Email Cal at cal@localtechwire.com.