From the pages of the New York Times, an obituary of the Pfizer medicinal chemist who co-invented Zoloft, an antidepressant. I had no idea he grew up in Portland:
The son of Benjamin and Monta Jean Koe, immigrants from China, Dr. Koe was born in Astoria, Ore., on April 15, 1925. His father worked in local salmon canneries before the family settled in Portland, where they ran a laundry.
Ken Koe received a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Reed, which he attended on a full scholarship, followed by a master’s in the field from the University of Washington and a Ph.D. from the California Institute of Technology.
In 1955, Dr. Koe joined Pfizer’s laboratory in Brooklyn. He worked for several years on antibiotics before being assigned to a group charged with developing psychotherapeutic drugs for conditions including depression, anxiety and schizophrenia. He focused in particular on drugs that would enhance the efficacy of the neurotransmitter serotonin, whose role in the biochemistry of depression was just starting to be understood.
Starting in the late 1970s, he and Dr. Welch began concentrated work on what would become Zoloft. By modifying an earlier, ineffectual drug that had been abandoned in development, they were able to build a molecule that inhibited serotonin’s reabsorption in the brain. As a result, more serotonin remained available for neurotransmission, which in many people turned out to ease depression.
A longtime resident of Ledyard, Conn., Dr. Koe retired in 1995 from Pfizer’s central research facility in Groton. For their work on Zoloft, he and colleagues were honored by the American Chemical Society in 2006….