Philanthropist Pledges $2 Million Gift to Combat Corneal Blindness

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The Tej Kohli Cornea Program at Mass. Eye & Ear, a teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School and its department of ophthalmology.

LONDON and BOSTON—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.

“Biotechnology is in a chain reaction of exponential technological progression and rapid development that offers unprecedented new opportunities to improve human life,” said Tej Kohli. “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 centers 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.”

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, India 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.

About 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 million of the 39 million living in India. Yet a good proportion of blindness, including 75 percent of corneal disease, is curable. About 12.7 million of the world’s blind are waiting for cornea transplants, including six million in India, and only one in 70 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. The Tej Kohli Cornea Program at MEE will accelerate collaborative research 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.

Click here to see a video about the biotech research that The Tej Kohli Cornea Program will support.