Philanthropist Tej Kohli pledges $2 million gift to champion biotech solutions for eliminating corneal blindness worldwide by 2030



Tej Kohli, a London-based billionaire who made his fortune during the dotcom boom selling e-commerce payments software, has pledged $2 million to Massachusetts Eye and Ear in Boston to fund innovation in research to cure corneal blindness, including the development of promising biotechnology solutions. The move reflects Kohli’s belief in the promise of new technologies to build a better world as he seeks to find a solution to eliminating avoidable corneal blindness that is not dependent on transplantation.

Kohli has already made substantial progress in his global mission to eradicate avoidable corneal blindness by 2030. The philanthropic Tej Kohli Cornea Institute in Hyderabad is an eminent institution for corneal research and expertise. Between 2016 and 2018 the institute saw 167,321 outpatient visits, collected 26,269 donor corneas, utilized 15,784 cornea and completed 31,511 surgical procedures.

285 million people in the world have a visual impairment and 39 million people are blind, according to the World Health Organization. Blindness is heavily impacted by poverty, with up to 14 of the 39 million living in India. Yet a good proportion of blindness, including 75% of corneal disease, is curable. 12.7 million of the world’s blind are waiting for cornea transplants, including six million in India, and only one in seventy of those on waiting lists receive a corneal transplant each year. Solving the problem of corneal blindness will require an affordable non-surgical solution.

Massachusetts Eye and Ear (MEE) is a teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School (HMS) and its Department of Ophthalmology is the world’s largest vision research and clinical enterprise. Between 2016 and 2018, MEE ophthalmologists conducted 521,805 patient visits and performed 101,941 ophthalmic surgeries and procedures. A long-time leader in research and clinical care for retinal disease, MEE performed the first FDA-approved gene therapy for an inherited disease in March 2018. Its clinician scientists are currently conducting more than 110 clinical studies and trials, in order to investigate new therapies across a broad array of vision disease and disorders.

The Tej Kohli Cornea Program at MEE will accelerate innovative and collaborative research to achieve unprecedented breakthroughs in corneal disease. The program will pursue pathways to cure corneal blindness through prevention and treatment, including cutting-edge molecular technology for rapid diagnosis and early detection of corneal infection and GelCORE, an adhesive biomaterial for replacing corneal tissue. The clinician/scientists who will lead this work are:

The work of these investigators follows a tradition of pioneering innovations in corneal and immunology research at MEE. Claes H. Dohlman, MD invented the Boston Keratoprosthesis (B-KPro), the most popular artificial cornea in the world and Dr. Chodosh has expanded its scope, restoring vision to those with blinding corneal disease and injury. Dr. Gilmore published the definitive research on “super bugs” discovering the mechanism used by microorganisms to acquire multidrug resistance. Last March, Dr. Dana led a pre-clinical study published in Science Advances – showing early indications that GelCORE may be able to seal cuts or ulcers on the cornea and then encourage the regeneration of corneal tissue.

Tej Kohli’s goal of curing corneal blindness is being pursued through philanthropy, including the $2 million donation to MEE, as well as through business ventures and investments in technology. Kohli recently acquired a proprietary regenerative biotechnology that is currently in clinical trials. If successful as an off-the-shelf solution, Kohli believes that this regenerative biotechnology could be immediately relevant to up to one third of the 12.7 million who are currently waiting for corneal transplants world-wide.

Tej Kohli says: “Biotechnology is in a chain reaction of exponential technological progression and rapid development that offers unprecedented new opportunities to improve human life. What we think we can achieve with biotechnology is a non-surgical solution to corneal blindness that can be applied through a syringe like a vaccine. Mass. Eye and Ear is one of the leading centres of excellence in the world, and my $2 million donation is to help ensure that the development of a technological solution to eliminating corneal blindness becomes a reality.”

Joan W. Miller, MD, Professor and Chair of the Department of Ophthalmology at HMS and Chief of Ophthalmology at MEE, Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, says:

“We are deeply appreciative of this gift, which will allow us to advance biotechnology therapies - first to clinical trials and ultimately to large populations of people afflicted with corneal infection and blindness. Tej Kohli is passionate about curing corneal blindness around the globe and we at Mass. Eye and Ear are very pleased to partner with him as we develop the next generation of treatments and cures.”

A video about the biotech innovations that The Tej Kohli Cornea Program will support at MEE is available here: https://youtu.be/2zUBtj6H7GM