Steven Edward Coutré was born in 1959 and grew up in Glenview, Illinois. Steve was the second oldest of a squad of 3 girls and 3 boys that his parents had over a span of 8 years. Steve attended Maine North High School in Des Plaines, Illinois where he excelled as a scholar-athlete, graduating as valedictorian of his class while serving on the wrestling and golf teams. His strong aptitude for science and math landed him a spot in the accelerated science program at Northwestern University.
Steve decided on Stanford University to attend medical school after looking at a map and saying, ‘That looks like a great place to go to school’! He entered a 5-year medical school track in order to have enough latitude to pursue extracurricular activities besides his clinical training and work in the lab. Consequently, he took an extended trip to Southeast Asia and Europe on a Pan Am round the world flight for $2000, an experience which surely kickstarted his wanderlust. In 1986, Steve started his internal medicine residency training at Yale. During one of his rotations, he met his wife Kathy, a nurse who was working in the CCU. They married in 1991 at the Yale Chapel, and in 1992 their twins, Evan and Brooke were born.
Steve undertook his postdoctoral fellowship in Hematology at Stanford from 1989 to 1992. After fellowship, he worked at Gilead Sciences in their Section of Vascular Biology and Medicine, where his research focused on protein engineering of thrombin. Steve returned to Stanford in 1995 as Assistant Professor of Medicine in the Division of Hematology. By the late 1990s and early 2000s, Steve’s Tuesday clinic dashboard of patients often reached 30-strong, reflecting a breadth and depth of malignant and classical hematology cases that is unimaginable with today’s sub-specialization.
Steve’s patients worshipped him for the hope and second chances he gave them; however, his work always showcased his well-known humility and humanity at the bedside. He was passionate about enrolling patients on studies so they could gain access to the transformative medicines of this new era of targeted therapy. This passion and excitement also inspired numerous trainees to pursue careers in translational and clinical research.
It is from this frenetic clinical pace that Steve’s famous efficiency was born. In 2000, he became Medical Director of the Hematology Outpatient Clinic. Due to his vast hematology acumen, sheer patient volume, reliability, and responsiveness, Steve became the go-to guy for hematology advice about complex patients both within and outside of Stanford. He served on three National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) Guideline Committees—acute myeloid leukemia, acute lymphoblastic leukemia, and chronic lymphocytic leukemia/hairy cell leukemia, and held the position of Vice-Chair of the Southwestern Oncology Group (SWOG) Leukemia Committee for the past decade.
Over the last decade, Steve’s clinical work focused almost exclusively on chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), the disease, that with COVID-19, took his life. In collaboration with teams of international investigators, he made seminal contributions to the clinical development of novel small molecule inhibitors for CLL: ibrutinib, acalabrutinib, idelalisib, venetoclax, and combinations with rituximab and obinutuzumab. These phase II/III studies, which were published in the New England Journal of Medicine and other high-impact journals, led to drug approvals that have profoundly transformed the lives of CLL patients.
Steve was a renaissance man who was drawn to the promise of science and medicine. However, the through line was his love of nature. Outside the confines of clinic, he appreciated and nurtured the beauty he found in his backyard. He was an avid gardener who loved succulents and aloes, and he experienced great joy as an amateur beekeeper, harvesting honey for his family and friends. Steve developed a love affair with Italy, and particularly Florence, after teaching a ‘History of Hematology’ course in 2016 as part of the Stanford Bing Overseas Studies Program. After several return visits, he established bonds of friendship and love with the students and staff over shared courses of food and wine that unmasked his talents as a gourmand.
All of us have a catalogue of memories of Steve that capture the essence of his life at and at work. We pause here to pay tribute to our colleague and to honor his contributions to patients, the field, our lives.