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Dr. B. Kenneth Koe Winner of the Prestigious Reed College Vollum Award


The Vollum Award was created by Reed College and endowed in 1975 by a grant from the Millicent Foundation, now a part of the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust. The winner receives $5,000 and a silver medal encased in a walnut triptych.


PORTLAND, OR (August 28, 2008)--Dr. B. Kenneth Koe, retired neuroscientist from Pfizer and a 1945 Reed College graduate, is the winner of the 2008 Vollum Award for Distinguished Accomplishment in Science and Technology. Koe, a career scientist, played a primary role in the development of the antidepressant Zoloft, which has been prescribed for more than 115 million people in the United States.

The Vollum Award was created in 1975 as a tribute to the late C. Howard Vollum, a 1936 Reed graduate and lifelong friend of the college. The award will be presented on Wednesday, August 27, at a ceremony beginning at 4 p.m. on the south lawn of Reed College, as part of the convocation events for incoming students and their families. Winners of the award are selected for the perseverance, fresh approach to problems and solutions, and creative imagination that characterized Vollum's career. Past recipients include Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Leroy Hood.

Koe began his career at Pfizer in 1955, where he initially studied penicillin offshoots before being transferred to a small team of central nervous system researchers charged with discovering novel drugs to treat schizophrenia, depression, and anxiety. Within the group, Koe’s role was the study of the brain neurotransmitters serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine, but his primary focus was on serotonin and the then burgeoning concept that it had an association with depression.

Koe teamed with Willard Welch, who was tasked with the creation of new molecules, and shaped the development of a molecule that would act as a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor. The resulting molecule was sertraline hydrochloride, which was introduced to the market by Pfizer as Zoloft in 1992.

Zoloft has been used world-wide to treat major depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, premenstrual dysphoric disorder, panic disorders, and social anxiety disorders in adults, as well as OCD in children.

Koe was born in Astoria, Oregon, raised in Portland, and graduated from Reed with a degree in chemistry. He went on to earn a Master of Science in chemistry from the University of Washington in 1948, and a Ph.D. from the California Institute of Technology in 1952.

While at Pfizer, Koe maintained an exceptional scholarly output, authoring or co-authoring 14 U.S. patents and 150 technical articles and abstracts, including chapters for the three-volume Industrial Pharmacology series on Neuroleptics (1974), Antidepressants (1976), and Anxiolytics (1979). He is a member of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology, ASPET, and the Society for Neuroscience.

Visit the convocation website to listen to Koe's remarks upon receiving the award.