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Roland Kuhn was born in Biel, Switzerland in 1912. He was trained in psychiatry at the University of Bern and in 1939 he was appointed senior physician at the Cantonal mental hospital in Műnsterlingen.

Kuhn became involved in the clinical testing of new drugs for Geigy, one of the major drug companies in the mid-1950s. He suggested the testing of one of the antihistamines, G22, 355, a tricyclic dibenzazepine,  because it showed the closest structural resemblance to chlorpromazine, a substance that was widely used in the treatment of schizophrenia. Contrary to his expectations, G22,355 had no therapeutic effect in schizophrenia. Instead, he observed that it was effective in some depressed patients, and especially in those with endogenous depression in whom vital disturbance was in the foreground. Kuhn published his observations with G22, 355 in 40 depressed patients in the 31 August issue of the Swiss Medical Journal in 1957 and the substance was released in the same year for clinical use in Switzerland for the treatment of depression with the generic name of imipramine, and the brand name of Tofranil. There was a strong opposition by mainstream psychiatry against pharmacological treatment of depression, but Kuhn prevailed and the introduction of imipramine was instrumental in encouraging the development of other drugs for the treatment of depression. Kuhn died in 2005.

Kuhn R. Ǘber depressive Zustände mit einem Iminodibenylderivat  (G22, 355). Schweizerische Medizinische Wochenschrift 1957; 87: 1135-40.

Thomas. A. Ban

June 13, 2013