In May 1945, Ken Koe stood on the outdoor convocation stage at Reed College in Portland, OR to receive his B.A. in chemistry. This past August he again stood on the college's convocation stage, this time to receive the 2008 Vollum Award for Distinguished Accomplishment in Science and Technology. The award honors individuals in fields of science and technology for their perseverance, fresh approach to problems and solutions, and creative imagination.
In his 40-year career with Pfizer, Ken has demonstrated all of those qualities.
Ken Koe joined Pfizer in 1955, after receiving a chemistry Ph.D. from the California Institute of Technology, as a Research Scientist in the Chemistry department of Pfizer Research Laboratories in Brooklyn, NY.
"I always wanted to work in the pharmaceutical industry because of its strong emphasis on scientific research," said Ken. "Publications on the elucidation of the chemical structure of terramycin by Pfizer scientists led me to apply for a position at Pfizer."
From the beginning, Ken worked on new drug discovery efforts, including new antibiotics and semi-synthetic penicillins. He eventually transferred into a small team of central nervous system researchers charged with discovering novel drugs to treat schizophrenia, depression, and anxiety. His primary focus was on biochemistry of serotonin in brain and the then burgeoning concept that it had an association with depression.
Ken teamed with fellow Pfizer chemist Willard Welch to shape the development of a molecule that would act as a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor. The resulting molecule was sertraline hydrochloride, which became Pfizer's antidepressant drug Zoloft.
In March 2006, Ken and his former team members received an award from the American Chemical Society for "team innovation" in honor of this discovery.
"My Zoloft colleagues and I have been awed and gratified that our efforts produced a world-class drug that helps sick people," said Ken.
Looking back on those years, he knows precisely what he enjoyed most about working at Pfizer. "I had a unique opportunity to do creative thinking and conduct scientific research in technical areas such as CNS biochemistry and pharmacology that were outside my formal chemistry training."
Ken retired in 1995 as Research Advisor in the Neuroscience department of Pfizer Central Research in Groton, CT., and he's just as clear about what he enjoys most about his retirement. "My time is my own," he said.
That's a good thing, because Ken's retirement keeps him very busy. He is active in his town of Ledyard, CT as a member of the Ledyard Planning Commission and the town's Democratic Town Committee. He indulges his love of music by singing in the Chancel Choir at his church, the United Methodist Church of Gales Ferry, and in the Eastern Connecticut Symphony Chorus. He also is on the Board of Trustees of the Thames Valley Music School at Connecticut College.
But he still keeps connected with the industry that he has contributed to for 40 years. He usually attends an international cannabinoid research symposium each year, and has annually attended a neuropsychopharmacology meeting on Pfizer's behalf.
Because perseverance, a fresh approach to problems and solutions and a creative imagination are not qualities that end with retirement.
here to see Ken Koe's photo gallery.