1936 - 2023
October 1, 1936 – October 5, 2023
On October 5, 2023, Dr. John (Jack) Stephen Leslie Kovach MD died peacefully at home at the age of 87.
Born October 1, 1936 in Cleveland, Ohio, Jack was the only child of the elder Dr. John Kovach MD (1906-1959), who immigrated from Hungary as a boy, and Irene Kovach (née Cherosky, 1907-2000), born in Cleveland to Hungarian immigrant parents. His childhood and adolescence were filled with large extended family gatherings and traditional Hungarian cuisine. He captained the Shaker Heights High School swim team to the Ohio state championship (1954).
Following a Biology degree at Princeton University, cum laude, (1958), Jack followed in his father’s footsteps to a career in medicine. He received his MD (Alpha Omega Alpha) at Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons (1962) and stayed at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital for Internal Medicine residency and further training in Oncology. Jack then spent several years at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD, partly in the laboratory of Nobel Prize winner Christian Anfinsen, honing his skills as a medical researcher. He returned to Columbia as an Assistant Professor of Medicine, where he cared for cancer patients and managed early-phase cancer clinical trials. He marched on Washington (1963) and attended Woodstock (1969).
A chance meeting with cancer researcher Dr. Charles Moertel brought Jack to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota (1976-1994), where he was director of the Cancer Pharmacology Division and later Chair of the Department of Oncology and Director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated Mayo Comprehensive Cancer Center. In Rochester, he crossed paths with his future life partner, German-born Barbara, while playing tennis – and then bought the house next door to her in the hopes of getting to know her better. They married one year later.
From 1994 to 2000, Jack was the Executive Vice President for Medical and Scientific Affairs at the City of Hope National Medical Center in Duarte, CA. During his tenure, he led the successful effort for City of Hope to become a National Cancer Institute Designated Cancer Center, reflecting the quality of its cancer care and research, joining only a small group of cancer centers in the United States to achieve that distinction. In 2000, he took on another endeavor and founded the Long Island Cancer Center (now Stony Brook University Cancer Center) in Stony Brook, Long Island. He retired as a Professor of Medicine at Stony Brook in 2018, but only to devote his full attention to Lixte Biotechnology Holdings (now LIXTE), a drug development company that he founded in 2005 based on a novel therapeutic mechanism. He was able to witness the initiation of several clinical trials of LIXTE’s lead compound, LB-100, and has passed the company leadership to a talented group of successors.
Jack is survived by his wife of 45 years Barbara (nee Ehmcke); daughters, Alexandra Kovach and Elizabeth Kovach (Stefan Abtt); two grandsons and stepson William Summerskill (Alison Summerskill) and family. Jack’s broad interests ranged from theoretical physics to Pre-Columbian art. His boundless enthusiasm and dry wit will live on in the memories of his family, friends and colleagues. His love of learning allowed him to feel, in the words of his father, “at home in the universe.”
In lieu of flowers, his family would be honored by donations in his name to City of Hope (https://www.cityofhope.org/ourhope).