Behind the story of Zoloft is the story of Kenneth Koe, a co-inventor of the blockbuster antidepressant that is among the most prescribed drugs in the world.

Koe died last week at the age of 90.

And it turns out his story is a Portland story.

The son of Chinese immigrants, Koe was born in 1925 in Astoria where his father worked in a salmon cannery, according to Reed Magazine. His parents eventually moved to Portland's Old Town, buying a laundry and living in the back of the store on Northwest Sixth Avenue while Koe attended Lincoln High School.

The night of his high school graduation, Koe learned he'd earned a full scholarship to Reed College, Koe told students at a 2008 award ceremony at his alma mater. While at Reed, he worked weekends washing dishes at the old Hung Far Low restaurant, according to Reed Magazine.

Koe’s yearbook photo at Reed.
Koe’s yearbook photo at Reed.

After Reed, Koe went on to graduate studies at the University of Washington and then the California Institute of Technology.

Koe helped develop Zoloft during his 40-year career at Pfizer, first in Brooklyn and then in Connecticut. The drug hit the market in 1991. In 2005, Science magazine dubbed him a "super inventor" for his contribution.

Koe trained as a chemist but he pursued interdisciplinary studies in biochemistry, pharmacology and neuroscience, says Pat McDougal, emeritus professor of chemistry at Reed, who presented Koe with the award at Reed's 2008 convocation.

"His interest in science was incredibly broad and deep," McDougal tells WW. "He was the paradigm of what we hope Reed graduates become."