Merck Foundation Honors Reed Trustee

Gift will honor Roger Perlmutter ’73 by endowing a chair in the biological sciences.

By Chris Lydgate ’90 | December 3, 2021

The Merck Foundation has made a $1.5 million gift to Reed College to honor leading immunologist and Reed trustee Roger Perlmutter ’73, who retired last year as executive vice president of Merck Research Laboratories.

The gift will create the Roger M. Perlmutter Professorship in Biological Sciences, which will be awarded to neuroscientist Prof. Suzy Renn [biology].

"I am deeply grateful to the Merck Foundation for this marvelous tribute to one of our most accomplished graduates,” says President Audrey Bilger. “ I can think of no better way to celebrate his achievements than supporting the next generation of innovators in the biological sciences at Reed."

“When I arrived at Reed in 1969 I thought that I might become a poet,” says Perlmutter. “However, in part because I had no talent in this line of work, my attention was increasingly drawn to the sciences. I am enormously grateful to Reed for providing the robust intellectual environment that enabled me to pursue interdisciplinary research, and I am delighted that the Merck Foundation has made this commitment to ensure that students now and in the future will gain the benefit of the extraordinary education that Reed provides.”

Perlmutter majored in biology at Reed and wrote his thesis on immune suppression with Prof. Larry Ruben [biology 1955-92]. He went on to earn both MD and PhD degrees from Washington University in St Louis and became Professor and Chairman of the Department of Immunology at the University of Washington in Seattle.  He also served as a professor in the Departments of Medicine and Biochemistry there, and as an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and both a Distinguished Fellow and past president of the American Association of Immunologists.

Perlmutter joined Merck in 1997 as executive vice president of basic and preclinical research. From 2001 to 2012, he served as executive vice president and head of research and development at Amgen. He returned to Merck in 2013, serving as executive vice president and president of Merck Research Laboratories until last year. 

Perlmutter has worked on scores of vaccines and therapeutics for multiple cancers, diabetes, and infections caused by Ebola virus, human immunodeficiency virus, hepatitis C virus, and cytomegalovirus. He is perhaps best known for his work on pembrolizumab, an immunotherapy drug he helped develop at Merck which is used to treat certain types of cancer. In his final years at Merck, he worked with a team that developed molnupiravir, an oral, direct-acting antiviral for the treatment of COVID-19. He is now chairman and chief executive officer of Eikon Therapeutics and serves as chair of Reed’s board of trustees.

Perlmutter joined Reed’s board of trustees in 2004 and has served as chair since 2010. This is the second professorship at Reed to carry his name. The first, the Amgen-Perlmutter Professorship of Biology and Chemistry, was created by Amgen when he left that company in 2012.

Tags: Alumni, Giving Back to Reed, Institutional