The Tej Kohli Foundation says that a focus on new technologies is needed to accelerate the global mission to end curable corneal blindness worldwide. The Foundation is currently funding the clinical trials and development of a ‘liquid biosynthetic’ solution that could offer an accessible, scalable and affordable solution to corneal blindness that would be relevant to many of the 12 million people worldwide who suffer from this type of blindness.
The thesis of the Tej Kohli Foundation is that humanitarian efforts the world over will be greatly advanced by exponential growth technologies such as AI, robotics and genomics. The Foundation behaves like a venture fund by backing, incubating, acquiring and accelerating the development of technology solutions. Only successful projects secure further funding support, leaving the Foundation agile to back the projects that will have the greatest impact.
Blindness is heavily impacted by poverty. According to the WHO, 14 million of the 39 million people who are blind live in India. 12.7 million people are currently waiting for a cornea transplant, including 6 million in India. The Tej Kohli Foundation’s ‘Cornea Institute’ at the LV Prasad Eye Institute in Hyderabad already conducts thousands of corneal transplants every year using donor cornea, largely for free. The Foundation recently cured five brothers and sisters in the same family from Rajasthan who had all been suffering with long-term visual impairment.
But the limited supply of donor cornea and the need for invasive surgery means that worldwide less than 1 in 70 will receive a cornea transplant each year. Artificial cornea or keratoprotheses are expensive and can cost up to US$20,000. The Tej Kohli Foundation is backing the development of technological solutions, because ending corneal blindness will require an affordable, accessible and scalable solution that does not rely on transplantation.
The Tej Kohli Foundation previously backed methods of synthesising artificial cornea from yeast and peptides, but new advances mean it has switched this funding to the development of the liquid biosynthetic, which aims to work by causing the regeneration of corneal tissue. The pro-regeneration tissue replacement could avoid the need for expensive corneal grafting and be applied in less than thirty minutes to fill a perforation or to repair a corneal ulcer.
In July 2018 the Tej Kohli Foundation also made a $2m gift to Massachusetts Ear and Eye, a teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School, to fund innovation in research into nano-string and DNA-sequencing technologies for early diagnostics and prevention, as well as ‘GelCORE,’ an adhesive biomaterial for replacing corneal tissue.
According to spokesperson for the Foundation Michael Macfarlane,:“There are limits to the number of corneal transplants that can take place each year, especially in poor and remote rural areas. The Tej Kohli Foundation is a global focal point for scientists and others who are developing pioneering treatments in this field. Our mission is to work with a range of partners in our goal to eliminate corneal blindness by 2035.”
Tej Kohli, co-Founder of the Tej Kohli Foundation:“Eliminating corneal blindness is what I am most passionate about. I favour a venture-led approach to philanthropy whereby we bring people together and provide the funding to accelerate the development of solutions that might bring us a step closer to ending corneal blindness. The way that we run our Foundation is directly aligned with how we manage our commercial ventures and investments, and this approach means we can drive greater progress from every pound or dollar or rupee that we spend on achieving our mission.”